Time to shape the overall classification with a time trial stage.
Special Cees: Trek-Segafredo and Deceuninck-Quickstep tried to exploit the conditions but the crosswinds just weren’t angry enough to help split the peloton for more than a few minutes so while it was nervous in the bunch, it was a slow day for viewers. In the approach to Amilly Alexis Vuillermoz crashed out of the race and George Bennett fell, breaking his helmet and looked groggy – beware TV diagnoses – but seemed lucid enough to jump on his bike the moment medics appeared on the scene and get away from them before they could start asking the new concussion protocol questions (update Tuesday morning: apparently he was questioned by medics and followed by an ambulance as he rode back to the peloton, via L’Equipe). We got a sprint but in the finale two crashes derailed many sprint trains. Jasper Stuyven launched Mads Pedersen but it was Cees Bol who was the torque of the town as he surged past to deliver DSM’s first win this year.
The Route: a course around Gien – longtime home to cycling’s rolling stone Pierre Rolland – that seems to cram in many features of France in just 14km short distance. There’s a 2km start long the banks of the glorious Loire, then suddenly a left turn and up a wall-like climb, 350 metres at 11% makes for a change of rhythm. At the top the course continues on small farm roads which are exposed before picking up a larger road for the mid-way time check. Then it’s back onto the farm roads and a twisty section which straightens out to run alongside the railway before passing a Leclerc supermarket – sponsor of the mountains jersey – and then the race picks up roads around the industrial parts of town before dropping back down to the Loire and then a last wall climb up to the finish in the historic town centre. Overall it’s an awkward little course, not flat for the pure specialists, not hilly for the climbers and a course where the small differences can count.
The Contenders: Rohan Dennis (Ineos) used to be the best time trialist in the world until his team mate Filippo Ganna took over. Sans Ganna, Dennis is an obvious contender, but his form is unknown. He rolled in several minutes down yesterday, presumably he wanted to save any spare energy for today and at 147th overall he’s an early starter so he could spend a long time in the hotseat.
Primož Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) has made winning time trials part of this path to victory in stage races and he’d prefer a hillier course – the climbs today are very short – but he’s got two races today, the first to see if he can win the stage; the second to take time on his rivals, both overlap.
Søren Kragh Andersen (DSM) won the Paris-Nice TT stage a year ago, a surprise and even knowing he won last year it’d be a surprise if he won again as last year’s course suited some of his skills downhill, today’s course isn’t as technical, nor does it reward risk-taking.
Stefan Bisseger (EF Education-Nippo) hit the front pages as an amateur when he torched the pro field to win a stage of the Tour de l’Ain in a sprint and has taken Tour de l’Avenir bunch sprints and more. But is he a Swiss Marcel Kittel or a Ganna? He was only few seconds off Ganna’s time in the UAE Tour TT. Today’s course is harder for him with the sharp climbs though.
Victor Campenaerts (Qhubeka-Assos) is a TT specialist but has made noises about trying to win road races instead because he’s been crowded out of the TT hotseat internationally by Ganna and even domestically (eg for Olympic selection etc) by Wout van Aert. Still this is home terrain for him.
Remi Cavagna (Deceuninck-Quickstep) is another TT specialist and in form and will be targetting this stage. Team mate Yves Lampaert can do a good time trial but a win would be more of a surprise.
Race leader Michael Matthews (Bike Exchange) could win, he’s won time trials in Paris-Nice before but it’d be a surprise. Team mate Luke Durbridge came from the Aussie track pursuit programme (he was on the squad with Dennis) but is less of a TT specialist these days.
Paddy Bevin (Israel)? Maybe a top-10. Brandon McNulty (UAE Emirates) watch to see if he can make the top-10 too. L-L Sanchez (Astana)? Decent in the UAE Tour and could ride high but surely not win.
|Rohan Dennis, Primož Roglič
|Rémi Cavagna, SKA, Stefan Bissegger
|Campenaerts, Teuns, Lampaert
Weather: cold and weak sunshine, 9°C with a northerly breeze of 10-15km/h that will mess with riders on the most exposed part of the course
TV: the last rider Michael Matthews should come in around 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.