Paris-Nice Stage 1 Preview

A tough opening stage in a tough place. If you want a preview of the GC contenders, see yesterday’s post. Here’s the first of the daily stage previews.

The Route: 157km with 1,750m of vertical gain. The traditional opening stage in the Yvelines department to the west of Paris, these are roads used by many cyclists living in the French capital.
Interestingly there’s almost no overlap with the 2024 Olympics course, one brief section of road is shared but it’s in the opposite direction so nobody is going to get much of a feel for this summer’s race here. It opens with a 100km loop that returns to the start and finish location in Les Mureaux via the climb out of Herbeville and then begins a shorter 50km circuit with more climbing before the Herbeville climb a second time to the finish.

The intermediate sprint in Montainville is up a steep climb, there’s 6-4-2 seconds in time bonuses here.

The Herbeville climb is listed as 2.6km at 5% but it’s got a middle section of 8% in the woodland. The hardest thing about the climb is that there’s no descent straight away. Instead it’s flat over the top and so anyone dropped on the climb can’t get freewheel back, they’ll need a team to help bring them. It’s 12km to the finish.

The Finish: a fast downhill section leads to a sharp right turn and then a left with 5.5km go to. From here it’s one long straight road until 1.5km and almost flat, it’ll be fast and a big chainring helps. Once in Les Mureaux there’s a small climb up to the flamme rouge, then a dip down and a rise until 700m where there’s a tight ~120° bend. From here the it climbs at 6% here before easing to 2-3%. It flattens out and there’s a sweeping curve at 200m but it’s just that rather than sharp angle and by now the field should well-lined out.

The Contenders: the archetypal rider for today can cope with some sharp climbs and finish the job in an uphill sprint. Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek) comes to mind, the form is there and he’s a handy climber in short efforts but his leadout is without the versatile Alex Kirsch who fell ill on the eve of the race. Arnaud De Lie (Lotto-Dstny) is the challenger, if he can manage the climbs on the way to the finish then he’ll love the uphill run to the line, it suits his raw power but he’s still sore from his crash in Le Samyn.

Marijn van den Berg (EF Education-Easypost), Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Fenix) and Michael Matthews (Jayco) can handle the climbs and uphill finish too but how to get ahead of the rest?

Sam Bennett (Decathlon-Ag2r La Mondiale) has done well in uphill finishes before but he’s still finding his way. Bryan Coquard (Cofidis) is often a contender but rarely a winner. Arnaud Démare (Arkéa-Samsic) has won Paris-Nice openers before and on hilly terrain but he’s more often a late starter in the season, wins in March and rare and he’s looking less authoritative.

The Herbeville climb isn’t fiendish but provides an extra challenge for sprinters and if they get over this, can they handle the uphill finish. Olav Kooij (Visma-Lease a bike) is interesting here, he’s winning bunch sprints and has more range. It’s more a challenge for Gerben Thijssen (Intermarché-Wanty), Fabio Jakobsen (DSM Firmenich-PostNL) and Dylan Groenewegen (Jayco).

Finally Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-Quickstep) has an outside chance if he decides to take a flyer or the attacks fly on the final climb.

M Pedersen, De Lie
Groves, van den Berg, Kooij
Bennett, Matthews, Pithie, Coquard, Evenepoel

Weather: weak sunshine and cold, 9°C with a light NW wind, 5-10km/h.

TV: France3 for locals and VPN users, it’s on Eurosport too and likely to be on the same channel you watch the Tour de France. Coverage begins around 3.15pm CET with the finish forecast for 4.55pm CET.

Postcard from Les Mureaux: Today’s start and finish location of Les Mureaux is just around the corner from the Château de Becheville. But forget the romantic 19th century building where Stendhal once stayed, Les Mureaux is real, raw and the final kilometre rides through the Cité de la Vigne Blanche. Once a village, Les Mureaux was transformed post-war by 1960s housing blocks and towers for workers at the vast Renault factory in Flins, the next town over. The factory was so important that even Queen Elizabeth and Nikita Khrushchev came to visit. Now the last Renault will roll off the production line at the end of the month. Les Mureaux has what are euphemistically termed “social problems” in French. Rather than quote stats to you, some symbolism instead: 2020 when President Macron wanted to give a speech about integration and immigration, his office picked Les Mureaux. In “Like A Prince”, a comedy about a boxer released this year, the fight and gym scenes are, you guessed it, in Les Mureaux. The final kilometre features in countless rap videos. But the most abundant source of video online of Les Mureaux was infamous for riots in 2005. The violence encouraged a lot of work on the ground such that when French housing estates erupted last summer Les Mureaux was relatively untouched, and is now even cited as a cohesive example for other places to learn from. None of this has anything to do with bike racing but that’s precisely the point. Because pro cycling these days has very little to do with areas like this. One of the charms of the sport is the way it goes to people, it’s on the ground rather than behind closed doors. Yet if cycling can “tour” France it’s often a certain kind of France, bucolic towns and villages with bell towers and sensible houses rather than cités. So it’s all the better than the race visits today.

14 thoughts on “Paris-Nice Stage 1 Preview”

  1. Thanks for the informative preview!
    Yes, it’s good that ASO can visit places like Les Mureaux. I remember reading somewhere that pro-cycling is a poor man’s sport as it’s too tough for the “bourgeoisie” so it’s good that the “less affluent” areas of France can be show-cased too.
    Hope for good weather and no nasty crashes!

    • These days races can often visit less affluent places but typically they’re often towns that have got left behind and are emptying out, you can see many houses with shutters closed all day, especially in Paris-Nice when it traverse’s France’s empty “diagonale”. Today’s slightly different to a place with a lot of social housing, it’s these kinds of places where its rare to see a bike race. But many clubs are based in places like this too.

  2. In relation to the issue of when the “real season” starts I would make the observation that for me it starts when the northern hemisphere goes onto daylight saving and the southern hemisphere goes off it. Only then do I get to see the race start before I go to bed.

    • But MSR comes two weeks before summer time begins! Close enough? 🙂
      As to cycling being a poor man’s sport…it used to be but now that bikes cost so much and even juniors seem to turn up their nose at anything less than a top line machine….is that still true? I wonder.

      • I think it goes back to a time when professional sports were less prevalent. Cycling was one and provided an opportunity for blue collar people to top up their bank balance a little and gain some notoriety at the same time.
        Today it seems to me that it is totally different and they all come out of incubators.

        • “I think it goes back to a time when professional sports were less prevalent”
          Agreed. I’m old enough to remember more than one pro saying something like if they weren’t riding a bike they’d be making a living with a pitchfork! I doubt many poor kids these days are being discovered by clubs willing to supply all the now so expensive equipment? And there are probably (more) easier ways to make a living than back-in-the-day.

    • Ideally his team would have had him in more .1 and .Pro races and finding his confidence again. Easier said than done and it seems it’s not just mental, he said last year was sprinting at 1,200 watts when he used to be at 1,500W or more, that’s a big change. We’ll see in the hillier stages, including today.

  3. Pedantic corner : Stendhal, not Standhal… from the name of a small town in Prussia, Stendal, where a famous art historian was born.

  4. Absolutely, I cannot agree more that our sport finally touches on a spot like Les mureux. This is a real place, lived in by people with dreams and ambitions and who need more of a voice. France, like many well off countries, try to ignore these neighbourhoods but they aren’t careful will overlook great families and perhaps even a really motivated and talented young future world champion!

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