Paris-Nice gets underway with the now traditional hilly opener west of Paris.
The Route: 169km around the Chevreuse valley (see below) west of Paris. There’s a series of climbs, many uncategorised, and plenty of exposed roads. The two marked climbs are the same one, 500m at a steep 12%, and all on a narrow road in woodland but at top of the climb there’s no chance for a breather as it’s out of the woodland, a drag up and on exposed terrain.
There’s an intermediate sprint at the the Côte des 17 Tournants, normally a categorised climb when Paris-Nice visits but today it’s a sprint for the 6-4-2 second time bonus. The “climb of the 17 bends” is hardly Alpe d’Huez’s cousin, the bends are more slight kinks in the road rather than hairpins but it’s 1km at 6%.
The Finish: the race crosses the finish line halfway in the stage so it’ll be less of a surprise for the bunch. After the climb of the 17 Tournants there are exposed roads before reaching the town of Le Mesnil and La Verrière and here the road rises a touch after right-hand turn in town, followed later by a left turn onto the finish.
The Contenders: sprint or surprise? If it’s a sprint then the hilly course and the climb with 7km to go means our winner has to be able to cope with a climb or two. Think Sam Bennett (Bora-hansgrohe), Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Bryan Coquard (Cofidis), Ivan Garcia Cortina (Movistar), Michael Matthews (Jayco-Al Ula) or even Edvald Boasson Hagen (Total Energies) and Marijn van der Berg (EF Education-Easypost) all quality riders but you’re probably also thinking none of these names are prolific winners.
Arnaud De Lie (Lotto-Dstny) fits the bill and is the form pick as he chases his first World Tour win. We can’t ignore Tim Merlier (Soudal-Quickstep) who seemed the best sprinter in the UAE Tour but this just isn’t the course he’d design if he could but it’s up to rivals to put him into the red, similarly Olav Kooij (Jumbo-Visma) and Alexander Kristoff (Uno-X). Which brings us to Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) whose won a hilly sprint in this race before, wins regularly and looked in form in winning the Etoile de Bessèges time trial plus he can handle himself in a crosswind.
For surprise results, why not Tadej Pogačar (UAE) in case the race splits up and he’s in the front group? But the weather conditions look more calm. (Update 11am) Of course for surprises there’s Magnus Cort (EF Education) as well but he risks being outpowered as the course might not be hilly enough for him.
|Mads Pedersen, Arnaud De Lie|
|Démare, Matthews, Merlier|
Weather: cold and cloudy, just 7°C and it won’t be very windy today, 10km/h from the NW.
TV: on France 3 for locals, GCN/Eurosport in many countries and often on the same channel you’d watch the Tour de France. Coverage starts around 3.15pm and the finish is forecast for 5.00pm CET.
La Chevreuse: Paris normally hosts the finish of the Tour de France but you wouldn’t ride the Champs-Elysées if you wanted to get a ride in. and the city is adding more and more cycle lanes but for the sporting cyclist wanting a longer ride the options in the French capital are limited. To the east of the city is the Bois de Vincennes, a park with woodland; to the west is the Bois de Boulogne, the same with 4km circuit with a small climb although lap it and you’ll begin to know how a goldfish circling a bowl feels; if you have to try be sure to go during day as at night both of these parks turn into red light districts and drugs markets. Push on west past Versailles into the Yvelines department and you’ll reach the Chevreuse valley, whose roads feature on today’s stage. It’s where many Parisian cyclists head when they want a ride. There are small twisting roads, woodland, sharp climbs and it’s all scenic with mills, castles and more. There are other places to ride outside of Paris but they’re either further away, more crowded or just pan-flat so the Chevreuse is a choice destination. Photo via Flickr’s Charles Jacques.