The final stage of Paris-Nice, the race is stopping a day early. Later today the finish line at La Colmiane will mark the end of Paris-Nice and probably pro bike racing as a whole for months to come.
Stage 6 Review: a fast start, the stage had “breakaway” all over it and many riders wanted a ticket to ride. Amid strong winds, it took a long time for a move to stick and Romain Bardet was among the group of seven that got clear but never much of a lead. On the finishing circuit Bardet was the only one who could stay with Søren Kragh Andersen when the Dane bridged across. Sunweb played a clever relay in the finish, launching Tiesj Benoot while SKA was still up ahead. It gave Benoot some extra help but he looked so strong he could have barged clear solo anyway. Once he got 20 seconds and into that arched tuck of his he looked impossible to haul back.
The Route: 166km and dominated by the summit finish. The Col de Vence should be the launchpad for the day’s breakaway, 9.7km at 6.6% with the steeper parts towards the top. Then on it’s rolling terrain for 100km. Don’t expect big crowds, health measures mean the entire final climb is closed to the public so it’ll feel like a Tuesday morning training ride more than the summit finish of a World Tour race.
The Finish: the same as 2018, it’s a 16km climb to the ski station of La Colmiane atop the Col Saint-Martin. 6.2% is not much but it’s still selective and crucially it’s often steeper, the mid-way kilometre of 3.5% has a flat part and then a steep part so, as ever, beware of averages. Overall it’s a steady climb and a wide road and the kind of climb where being sat on a wheel means saving energy, especially for the second half where the gradient eases a touch. This suits a group more than a lone rider and in 2018 we saw many riders being ejected from the group long before any attacks started. It kicks up a touch for the finish.
The Contenders: a GC stage but if a good breakaway goes clear early, who will bring them back? There are only 95 riders left now and race is lacking the horsepower of Astana and Ineos to control the race. So keep an eye on Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), Ritchie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) or Pierre Latour (Ag2r La Mondiale) who can go in the early move because they’re no threat overall, maybe Romain Bardet too but he might be tired from yesterday’s moves but all the more reason he might move again today as he can’t win from a straight contest against the GC contenders.
This is a climb for Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) as it’s long and suits someone who can grind a steady tempo that wears others down. Only he’s not looked so lively in recent days, strong but not floating. Being down on GC now means he can move on the final climb without Higuita and Schachmann having to close him down right away.
Sergio Higuita (EF Pro Cycling) is third overall and faces a dilemma, go all in for the overall and try to overturn Max Schachmann’s one minute lead, or play it safe and go for the stage win? Neither are such obvious options as he’s lost several team mates who’d be relied on to set the pace today. But he sprints well so he’s an easy pick for the stage.
It’s a big test for Max Schachmann (Bora-Hangrohe). His race has been a success so far with a stage win, second place in the time trial and a long spell in the race lead. But can he handle a 40 minute climb? Only he doesn’t need to win the stage today, he just needs to pace himself to limit losses to Higuita. He’ll be sore after a crash yesterday when he smacked into a wall sideways at speed.
Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) isn’t a regular summit finish winner any more but in a depleted field is a big name. Still it’s hard to see him outclimbing Quintana or outsprinting Schachmann but if he can make a late attack before riders worry about the sprint he’s got a chance. Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) ought to enjoy a climb like this too but his form is so-so.
Finally today was always going to be the hard stage for Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quickstep) even if he came into the race in top shape and health, only he’s not. He’s in the awkward position of being 10th on GC so has little room to go in the break today either.
|Sergio Higuita, Nairo Quintana
|Nibali, Pinot, Benoot, Bardet, Alaphilippe, Martin, Porte, Latour, Bardet
Weather: sunshine and clouds, a pleasant 18°C in the valleys.
TV: coverage starts around 1.30pm CET and the finish is forecast for 2.55pm CET. It should be available on the same channel you watch the Tour de France and/or Eurosport.