A sprint finish awaits but more of the same, an uphill finish like yesterday to make things harder for the sprinters.
Stage 1 Review: a long solo breakaway for Fabien Doubey who collected the mountains jersey as a reward and he could hop to keep it all the way to Nice if he can get in the right breakaways; he finished 11th on GC here last year. It was a sprint win for Sam Bennett in Saint-Cyr, the town that gave its name to France’s military academy. War and martial metaphors are generally best avoided in sports commentary but in a place where battle plans have been studied for centuries, tacticians of any kind will have noted Groupama-FDJ’s strong sprint train yesterday: they’re the strongest but not the craftiest. Sam Bennett was dropped into place in the finish by his leadout and surged clear, sprinting with his hands on the brakehoods. Arnaud Démare finished second and was lucky to avoid being taken down when his leadout Miles Scotson crashed. Scotson wasn’t the unfortunate Aussie of the day though, sadly it was Richie Porte who had already crashed and abandoned the race before the stage had finished.
The Route: 188km and the most northerly start of a Paris-Nice stage… since 1982 when the race began in Belgium. It’s flat today with few secrets to decrypt, there’s only one categorised climb meaning anyone who goes in the break can’t hope to take the climber’s jersey from Doubey so there’s not much of an incentive to go up the road, apart from riders looking for a pre-classics workout. Riders who did Paris-Nice in 2017 will get déjà vu as today’s route shares plenty of the roads used on Stage 2 then and goes to Amilly, just as it did then. There are two big differences though: last time the weather was foul with shivering riders struggling to brake and change gear in the finish and it’ll be dry today and probably too calm for crosswinds; also the finish is different when it was a long flat finishing straight then but today is more technical with an uphill run through town.
The Finish: a right turn and then a sharp left that’s almost a U-turn just before the 3km to go point and then another turn back with 1.6km to go and then it’s uphill into Amilly including a brief cobbled section – regular urban pavé – to the flamme rouge and then the slope levels off and its out of town to another sharp bend with 400m go and onto the finishing straight. Overall it’s not a complex finale but it will reward sprint trains who’ve studied the technicalities.
The Contenders: play it again Sam Bennett (Decuninck-Quickstep)? The hilly finish suits him, his train works and so on. But no sprint is ever the same and so Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) will hope to win today and the uphill approach suits both riders. The final kilometre is flatter and should open up more opportunities for Pascal Ackermann (Bora Hansgrohe) and Alexander Kristoff (UAE Emirates). Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) should be close too but as ever there are riders with more speed than him in the final metres, if it was cold and windy he’d gain an extra chainring below.
|Philipsen, Ackermann, Kristoff, Pedersen
Weather: dry and chilly, a top temperature of 9°C and a light NE wind, probably not enough to split things up but if the forecast is wrong by a small amount it’s game on. Watch the wind turbines on the course for clues.
TV: the finish is forecast for 4.00pm CET. It’s on France 3 for locals and VPN users, or Eurosport/GCN for most of the rest of the world and NBC Sports Gold in the US.