It starts near Paris and finishes in Nice. Like a sandwich, it’s what is in between that counts so here’s a closer look at the Paris-Nice route for 2022, set for 6-13 March.
Stage 1 and the usual loop in the Yveslines department the west of Paris. There’s the short climb to Breuil for the puncheurs and crucially once out of the village at the top the roads are very exposed with open farmland all around so if the wind blows this could be lively.
Stage 2 is another day to watch for crosswinds. If the wind blows it’ll be a vintage day, if not it’s a surefire sprint in old Orléans.
Stage 3 goes to Dun-le-Palestel, population just 1,100 and in one of France’s emptiest, and emptying areas. But there’s a cycling link as Dun is the home of a post-Tour criterium held on the first Saturday of August. The finale features some climbing, nothing at all mountainous but just enough to spoil things for the heaviest of sprinters, especially if teams work to make things harder.
Stage 4 is the now traditional mid-week time trial stage and at 13.4km, short. It looks like it’s in the middle of nowhere but it’s got a celebrity touch. Domérat was where Audrey Tatou grew up and Montluçon is where Julian Alaphilippe did the same. Tatou’s unlikely to show up but will the world champion start the race? There’s a mix of narrow roads before a steep finish on the edge of town, described as 700m at 8% but steeper at the top, the kind where a GC rider… or Alaphilippe can take back time on the specialist rouleurs.
Stage 5 leaves Saint-Just-Saint-Rambert to climb 3,400m. After the Croix de Chaubouret on the flanks of Mont Pilat it’s along the Rhone valley before they turn into the Ardèche hills. The Col de la Mûre is a selective climb, 7km at over 8% and then there’s a tricky finish via the very narrow climb of Salée to the intermediate sprint before a descent on bigger roads to the finish.
Stage 6 and by now there should be some time gaps, maybe some riders even eased up the day before, so this could be one for the breakaway. The Col de Murs is harder than the 4% sounds and ideal for the move to go away. The final climb of the Col d’Espigoulier has its steep parts before a fast descent and then a bonus bump in the road to Lascours before the finish in Aubagne.
Stage 7 is the summit finish day with the Col de Turini. It’s almost a copycat stage of 2019 when Dani Martinez won the day, but it’s an abbreviated course. The Turini, climbed from the west/north here, is a long slog with steady gradients, sitting on a good wheel counts for plenty and the selection happens slowly rather than suddenly.
Having written Paris-Nice starts in Paris and finishes in Nice, well it hasn’t reached Nice for the last two years because of Covid. Hopefully it’s third time lucky and Stage 8 goes as planned. It’s the usual fast and furious race in the hills behind Nice with a couple of small twists. First the “Côte de Berre-les-Alpes”, better known to locals as the Colla Donna leading to the Col de Nice. Then they drop into Nice and climb the Col d’Eze but this time via new road which promises a kilometre at 13.5%. The details aren’t published but it looks like the Col de Villefranche via the Boulevard Des Deux Corniches and then the Chemin du Vinaigrier… but we’ll have to see when the full route is published. Once at the pass there’s a descent straight to the finish on the Promenade des Anglais seafront.
A classic route in the modern sense, the course exploits as much of the geography possible via the Loire and Rhone valleys and returns to plenty of familiar places along the way and with a couple of extra difficulties along the way. The opening stages suit the sprinters and become fascinating if the wind blows. The mid-week time trial is just enough to prise apart the GC and then makes space for the Nice weekend of two road race stages with a summit finish on the Saturday and the corniche cliffhanger on the Sunday with the added difficulty of the new approach to the Col d’Eze.
It’s too soon to know the whole startlist – some teams have yet to present their jersey and plans – but this morning’s presentation announced Primož Roglič will be back to avenge his loss from last year and he’s going to be very hard to beat, the course suits. According to race director François Lemarchand in L’Equipe, he’ll clash with Egan Bernal and Ineos also come with Filippo Ganna who’ll aim for the TT stage but can be a weapon on many stages. Max Schachmann will be back to try and win for the third year in a row.