Paris-Nice starts on Sunday. Last year’s winner Max Schachmann is back but he’s got Primož Roglič and an Ineos trident and others to contend with. Here’s a look at the overall contenders for the race.
Route summary: eight stages with three likely sprint finishes along the way, a 14km time trial, two hilly stages and the Col St. Martin (aka La Colmiane) summit finish before and the hectic hilly stage behind Nice to settle things (a detailed look with profiles and more here). There are time bonuses of 10-6-4 seconds on the finish line.
The crosswinds lottery looks reduced with gentle but chilly weather forecast for the early stages. Last year’s edition didn’t reach Nice and stopped one stage short because of the pandemic but things should be ok here, the sport has its bubble model allowing it to continue, even in hotspots.
Primož Roglič starts his 2021 season here, form unknown. We do know is his record in stage races, since January 2018 he’s won nine stage races and “lost” seven, as in finished second or lower. He’s ideally suited to this course with its time trial stage, plus his uphill jump means he can win stages and take precious time bonuses. He comes with a Tour-quality strong Jumbo-Visma team with George Bennett, Steven Kruijswijk and Sam Oomen all potential winners too but none as complete as Roglič and they say they’re all in for the Slovenian and they’ll have their chances in other races – eg Catalunya and Romandie for Kruijswijk – plus there’s luxury support on the flat too from Tony Martin.
Night follows day, dogs bark and Ineos show up with a strong team. These days they’re supposed not to steamroller their way to wins but to entertain and we’ll see, they do have multiple riders waiting to take turns to attack. Richie Porte is back at a race he’s won twice before and shredded the field in mountain stages too (pictured). But things have changed, he’s moved back to Ineos not to be a grand tour understudy any more but a luxury helper in the final years of his career with less of the pressure that was on him at BMC and Trek-Segafredo. Still the short time trial is ideal, so are the uphill finishes on almost home turf and the forecast for few crosswinds is one less worry too. Tao Geoghegan Hart is the up and coming rider, but how to win? He’d have to storm the TT or outclimb the field and this is a big ask, he seems more of a steady rider, a diesel better at grand tours than one week races but we’ll see, he’s still a card to play. Rohan Dennis is of interest, if he’s got the climbing legs from the Giro then he’s a contender here because he can win the time trial and this puts him in a strong position for the rest of the week. If he can hold on you wonder how he might fare in longer stage races this summer that feature beaucoup time trial kilometres and fewer summit finishes than usual.
Astana have a strong team too with Aleksandr Vlasov supported by veterans Ion Izagirre and L-L Sanchez, the latter riding in a race he first tried in 2004 and won in 2009. The Russian had a breakout season last year but the Giro is a big goal so is he looking for a win here too or not? Look to see how he does in the time trial as we know he’s an excellent climber but the TT still needs work.
Last year’s winner Max Schachmann is back and he rode a great race last year. This year’s course is similar but a touch harder him and other for punchy riders, the Chiroubles finish on Stage 4 is a big test. So it’ll be hard to repeat but he could be close and in the mix for stage wins along the way. Of all the big teams Bora-Hansgrohe have had the slowest start to the season and “Schachi” shares a team with classics contenders and sprinter Pascal Ackermann but there’s Felix Großschartner for support but the Austrian is often a steady top-10 contender rather than a winner.
Now we get to a long list of riders who probably won’t win but they’ll be interesting to see along the way and the breadth of the list is at least interesting for number of riders that could be candidates to go on the attack on the final stage in Nice and try to turn the race upside down… Jai Hindley (DSM) is a mystery package, this is his first race since placing second in the Giro so there will be lots of attention on him but there’s not yet much expectation. Tiesj Benoot was second overall last year too, in part thanks to a breakaway and stage win but can feature again.
David Gaudu‘s going to be a leader at Groupama-FDJ now and this week’s as much a test for the man as the legs, has he got the authority to lead his riders here and how does he handle the local media? He’ll find the time trial a hurdle and so a stage win would be a triumph, a top-5 finish a satisfaction.
Guillaume Martin‘s another outsider but the time trial’s more than a hurdle and he’s still on the mend from a knee injury, but Cofidis team believe him as they’ve just extended his contract.
Bahrain lose Wout Poels to a knee injury leaving Dylan Teuns is an outsider, a rider who can compete in the cobbled classics and on uphill finishes and useful in a time trial too but still very much an outsider to win a World Tour stage race like this while Jack Haig gives more options in a race he’s thrived in before.
Bob Jungels (Ag2r Citroën) wants to become a stage racer again and change starts here, look to see how he can climb in the coming days although his limit has been the very long climbs of the grand tours, those above and beyond the Col St Martin.
Brandon McNulty had a solid Giro and he’s still 22 and should keep on improving, the short time trial and the steady climbs should suit. Harm Vanhoucke (Lotto-Soudal) should feature on the climbs. Fabio Aru (Qhubeka-Assos) is looking better than last year but still a long way short of his old self. Lucas Hamilton (Bike Exchange) left the Giro before we could really see what he was capable of. Warren Barguil‘s had some stomach issues and seems to be over them which is promising as the legs look ok but he’s more an outsider for a stage win than the GC. EF Education-Nippo’s Neilson Powless could be up there and 20 year old Daniel Arroyave is one to watch in his firs World Tour race.
|Dennis, Geoghegan Hart, Vlasov, Schachmann, Kruijswijk|
TV: France Télévisions is the local broadcaster with Eurosport/GCN offering plenty of international coverage. It should be on the same channel you watch the Tour de France… although maybe not for US readers. The finish times vary between 5.00pm CET tomorrow 3.15pm CET next Saturday… so check the daily previews here for more.