The race goes into the mountains for a hard day’s racing with two big climbs and a hilly finish, a route borrowed straight out of Paris-Nice. The good news is the sun’s shining.
Holiday on Nice: the early break of three from which Fabian Grellier (Total Direct Energie) took the mountains jersey for a day, not a giant triumph but that’s his Tour made. We also learned that Peter Sagan looks like he wants another green jersey, he contested the intermediate sprint. So far, so normal but this is a very different Tour, the start in Nice behind a wall and a strange mood inside and outside the peloton. It rained for the first time in ages and the roads turned into a skating rink with countless riders crashing, this was no balade niçoise. Pavel Sivakov fell twice and with no Ineos riders coming back to help him at first it cleared up any team leadership hopes and he lost even more time. The Jumbo-Visma team were visibly trying to neutralise the race, Tony Martin was flapping his arms in a gesture that looked like he wanted to express “piano, piano” but resembled a cassowary trying to take off. It worked, the decision to neutralise the race is never a democratic matter, strong teams can enforce their will on the others but collectively most agreed. Astana had other plans, only to get hoisted by their own petard when Miguel Angel Lopez lost control on a descent and planted his face into a roadsign. Once the racing resumed everyone looked to be heading back to Nice safely only the peloton to go down like bowling pins at the 3km point. We got the promised sprint but none of the team trains could take control and a surprise result, Alexander Kristoff launching a long sprint to win ahead of Mads Pedersen and Cees Bol, a trio of powerhouse sprinters.
The Route: Stage 2 and solid day in the Alps with two long climbs and beaucoup climbing metres, this is an important stage. Why such a tough day so early? Because Nice is sat between the Alps and the sea, it’s not like there’s much other choice and besides these inland roads are very inviting, they’re staples of Paris-Nice.
It’s 45km up the valley roads and straight into the Colmiane. It’s become a regular in Paris-Nice and at 16km it’s a long, steady ascent where you get into a tempo and hardly change gear, just stand on pedals for a few ramps and to round some of the hairpins. There’s a reciprocal descent.
The Turini is next, 15km at a bit steeper and more irregular in places. The descent via Peïra-Cava and Lucéram starts with regular roads but rough in parts and it’s later down that the twisty section comes. After Peïra-Cava the race forks left and the technical part begins with a series of hairpins cut into the rock before reaching Lucéram. Pass this and the road gradually levels off into Nice, the road is more engineered and if there are hairpins they’re the kind trucks can take quickly.
They ride into Nice and head for the Col d’Eze. The climb is 7.8km at 6.1% but with a steep start of 7-8% for the first two kilometres. Once past the Col, they take the Moyenne Corniche descent back to Nice, it’s very familiar from Paris-Nice. They cross the finish line and climb the Col d’Eze again with the same steep start but this time they turn off before the top, at the Col des Quatre Chemins. Here is the day’s special bonus point, a time bonus of 8-5-2 seconds for the first three. The descent is on familiar roads from Paris-Nice too.
The Finish: the Paris-Nice finish, the same roads as used in recent editions of the spring stage race, its downhill off the climb. The official profile shows a small rise with 1km to go but this is barely a bump in the road with a flat run along the promenade.
The Contenders: not an easy day for a breakaway because nobody wants to lose time, miss the move today and many teams can waive goodbye to taking the yellow jersey before it becomes the property of the overall contenders. At the same time today’s climbs are so big many sprinters should be dropped.
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceunick-Quickstep) is the obvious pick, he can win sprints from a group and is capable of launching on either of the two final climbs. But he’ll be heavily marked.
Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) good on terrain like today and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) used to be an obvious pick. Marc Hirshi (Sunweb) and Tiesj Benoot have decent chances today, Hirschi’s very quick from a small group and Benoot has the punch. Sergio Higuita (EF) is a fast finisher but would prefer an uphill finish. Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-McLaren) is quick, famous for his descending which helps today he won a stage of the Deutschland Tour from a big group. UAE Emirates probably won’t wait for Kristoff, instead Tadej Pogačar and Davide Formolo are cards to play, David de la Cruz’s won a stage of Paris-Nice on the same roads but fractured his pelvis. Greg Van Avermaet (CCC) and Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) might be able to hold today or get back on the descents, and an outside chance Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept) too.
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) is a stealth pick because he’s unlikely to follow Alaphilppe over the Col d’Eze as if it’s the Poggio but if things come back together he can sprint and take the win. Also Primož Roglič is a candidate in case the GC contenders turn on each other early and make this an early selection.
Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) was going to be today’s pick from months out but an Italian motorist emerged from a garage or driveway onto the course of Il Lombardia and took him out, cracking his collarbone. He’s racing but today’s surely too much now.
|Julian Alaphilppe, Davide Formolo, Matej Mohorič
|Lutsenko, WvA, Hirschi, GvA, Herrada, Benoot, Impey, Roglič, Coquard
Weather: sunny and mild, 24°C in the valleys inland and warmer back in Nice. Update 10.00am, the wind is getting up, there’s a strong onshore breeze to push the peloton inland but it’ll be gusty later, a headwind on the finishing straight.
TV: live coverage from start to finish. The stage starts at 1.00pm CEST, the top of the Turini is around 4.00pm and the finish is forecast for 6.00pm Euro time.