Paris-Nice Stage 5 Preview

A sprint stage but over 2,000m of climbing and some long mountain passes but they’re gradual so plenty of sprinters will hope to hang on as this is their last chance.

Nouveau in the Beaujolais: it’s just Paris-Nice and it was just one day but it was still instructive that neither Bora nor Quickstep could keep a lid on the race. Luke Plapp surged on the Col du Fût d’Avenas with Louis Vervaeke but the Belgian seemed to be recalled to help his leader Evenepoel. Santiago Buitrago jumped across to Plapp the pair took 30 seconds on the way to the foot of Mont Brouilly which was a good cushion. Buitrago dropped Plapp to take the stage win but the Aussie didn’t crack and was only ten seconds behind, enough to take yellow.

In the dash for the line behind Remco Evenepoel was pipped by Mathias Skjelmose for the remaining two second time bonus with Egan Bernal and Felix Gall next, ahead of Roglič, notable as Bernal’s gone from improving to racing with the best while Roglič is being beaten on finishes he’s normally so good at.

Paris-Nice was supposed to be a Roglič-Evenepoel duel, then UAE beat them both and now suddenly we find ourselves with Luke Plapp in yellow and Bahrain’s Santiago Buitrago just behind him. Plapp’s big goal is the Giro this year and says anything more this week is a bonus. There’s every chance Roglič-Evenepoel still come out on top but it’s looking more like 50-50 now, or less given Roglič lost more ground. A host of outcomes are possible with even the weather part of the scenario, more of which below.

The Route: 193km, over 2,000m of vertical gain and scenic. A start in the Ardèche on the right bank of the river Rhone, then the race crosses the river and heads into the hills. Normally your blogger would decode the profile and point out hidden climbs but really there’s just nothing to signal here, the race rides into Provence, there are lavender fields and having ridden the route the most remarkable thing about the climbing is that there’s still Thibaut Pinot graffiti on the roads, probably dating from the 2019 Tour de France. Otherwise the climbs are steady, today’s course will tire the heavier sprinters but they can hope to stay the course.

The Finish: the race comes into Sisteron and rides across the finish line. Right after it starts climbing out of town but the road is rectiligne in French, straight and if there’s 6-7% and more than the 3-4% in the roadbook but it’s over in a kilometre but it’s a place for some to lose position. There’s still 8km to go and downhill back to Sisteron.

The Contenders: this is a hilly stage but all the climbs are relatively gentle, it’ll tire some sprinters but they shouldn’t be dropped. Teams with more versatile sprinters have an interest in making the stage harder by forcing the pace.

Olav Kooij (Visma-LAB) went missing in action in Montargis but can come good here, he’s got the speed and the climb before the finish should be no problem. Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek) has said out loud he wants a stage win and this is probably the last chance but to repeat things he’s lost his leadout specialst Alex Kirsch so it’s harder. The stage probably needs to be harder for Laurence Pithie (Groupama-FDJ).

The climbing does make it harder to pick Arvid De Kleijn (Tudor Pro Cycling), he was among the first to be dropped on Sunday’s opening stage. Fabio Jakobsen (DSM Firmenich-PostNL) and Dylan Groenewegen (Jayco) can be in the mix, Gerben Thijssen (Intermarché-Wanty) and Sam Bennett (Decathlon-Ag2r La Mondiale) too but a win for them would be a surprise, a reversal of fortune.

The breakaway has a chance today but slim because several teams have come for sprint wins and today is their last opportunity so they’ll keep any more on the proverbial tight leash and set up a sprint.

Kooij, Pedersen
Pithie, Bennett, Groenewegen, Jakobsen

Weather: we’re further south but it’s not warming up. Weak sunshine and 11°C at best, cooler at altitude.

Weather 2: there’s snow forecast for Saturday’s stage to Auron. Now snow in a ski resort is hardly news and the authorities have snow ploughs and trucks full of salt to keep the roads open so that tourists can drive up in order to slide down. But it’s another thing to race there and the long descent of the Colmiane could be removed, we’ll have to see. The forecast is saying the snow could arrive after the race but the timing will be more precise in the coming days. Any decision doesn’t need to be taken now, it’ll be for later on Friday when the weather forecast is more precise.

TV: the finish is forecast for 4.30pm.

Postcard from [inside] Montfroc: 1983-84 Tour de France winner Laurent Fignon didn’t seem to have an easy retirement, being reminded he lost the 1989 edition by just eight seconds was a sore point. In his autobiography he tells how he was stuck for what to do, what to invest in. After years he hit on the idea of buying Paris-Nice and became the organiser in 2000, seeing off ASO. The adventure only lasted two years before he threw in the towel and sold it on to ASO. As a small lone organiser he struggled on many fronts: banks dictated terms to him, mayors just wanted the Tour de France and to corporate sponsors and their boardrooms he was an outsider.

Embed from Getty Images

But amid the stress, a moment of levity. In 2001 Stage 4 went to Sisteron and the race passed through Montfroc, as it will today. The village sits below the Montagne de Lure, the “sister” mountain to Mont Ventoux, it’s a small place, little more than a bend in the road and a campsite in summer. It’s notable because its name sounds like mon froc, “my frock” and froc in French can mean trousers or (under)pants. Normally race radio is formal and matter-of-fact, think “84km to go, the gap is now six minutes and 20 seconds, 6m20s for the breakaway” and little else. But as the race comes into the village race director Gilbert Duclos-Lasalle announces over race radio “the riders are entering Montfroc” and apparently many in the convoy started sniggering. Fignon, in another car, grabs the radio to reply “Gilbert, let us know when you are out of my frock” and so began all sorts of radio jokes. It was probably better in the moment and a moment of levity for Fignon and others on the race and it seems to this day that when ever a race goes through Montfroc the race radio announcements can be a convoy in-joke. Fignon’s Paris-Nice chapter wasn’t glorious but he had his moments and more. He met his wife Valerie through the role and his sidekick back then was François Lemarchand who is now race director.

23 thoughts on “Paris-Nice Stage 5 Preview”

  1. Just had to chuckle while reading the preview on the morning commute…
    I read and enjoyed the Fignon biography. He came across as being a nice guy if I remember correctly. So thanks for the additional info. Learned something new.

  2. Found myself wondering from afar: how is the Montagne de Lure to ride? None of the legend of its sister but a quiet road through the pines? Limited views but with the chance to stop by a beautiful old abby on the way up? Some tough switchbacks as you climb into the lunar landscape towards the top?

    • Exactly as you say. Paris-Nice has raced up it but it’s a quiet backroad. Nobody needs to drive over Mont Ventoux but plenty do, it a tourist attraction for many and so it’s busy at times. The Lure though is very quiet, but less spectacular on the way up, and not as steep either. At the top you get the lunar style landscape but the mountain is more of a long ridge than the conical peak that is Ventoux. If anyone is visiting for Mont Ventoux it’s a nice alternative ride.

      A tip: if you see some sheep on the road or grazing beside you might think “that’s nice, it’s so quiet here” but your first should bebe “where are the sheepdogs?” as these herds usually have two or three giant dogs for protection from wolves and the dogs aren’t used to cyclists, they can come bounding towards you.

        • Yes, just like Lee an unwanted sprint. Apparently it’s best not to do this but I heard a noise, looked over my shoulder, saw two huge hounds coming for me and fancied my chances.

          Locals know all about them, there are signs for walkers by gates and fences telling people to look out for the herds and walk around not through but cyclists probably won’t spot them.

          The dogs, “patou” in the dialect, look cute in photos but their job is to protect the herd. The advice is they “not trained to be aggressive, just dissuasive” and you should back away, ride around etc but if there’s a herd of sheep grazing on both sides of the road and you’re on a mountain road then you might have to turn around or wait and if you are descending look out for sheep droppings as a clue to what might be around the next corner. But in general it’s fine, we’re probably all more at risk from cornering badly or a motorist looking at their phone rather than a sheepdog.

          • We had a lot of that in Sardegna where there are more sheep than people! If they’re chasing and you’re on a paved, flat road it’s sprinting time! If not, ya kinda gotta make friends or hope the shepherd call’s ’em off. Same thing here in Sicily but there aren’t so many sheep so it’s not as big an issue. We’ve never been bitten, but a time or two I thought I might lose a piece of my calf!

      • There are lots of livestock protection dogs where I live too. The best thing to do is to stop and calmly make it clear to them that you are a person. Stopping diffuses the chase instinct, which is tied to the bite instinct. Either they will bark at you a bit or (at least here) come over to say hello and get petted. Maybe 1% of the time I end up having to carefully back away until I am out of their territory.

        • Seems the chase is part of the “fun” for these dogs? One time in the Italian Alps on MTB’s my wife comes hauling-ass back towards me, shouting about dogs chasing her. She blows past me and before I can even get turned around the dogs come…and go right past me as if I wasn’t even there! I head down the hill, wondering WTF is gonna happen, only to come across the dogs…coming back up the trail, ignoring me totally. It was hard not to imagine them saying “We showed her!” to each other as they came back up the hill with tails wagging.

          • Oh, totally. The herding dogs like to run alongside and herd you. If I could post pics here I’d share some of the great dogs I’ve met over the years.

        • Thank you , this is all essential advice and makes full sense. I have a beautiful sight hound and if he is chasing you, he can get quite aggressive with his barking…but the deer, hares, Foxes, rabbits, other dogs etc never seem to understand; if they just stopped running so would he and once the “fun” is over he’s ready for a treat or petting….

          • “..stopped running so would he and once the “fun” is over he’s ready for a treat or petting….”
            How many times have I heard similar stuff from owners of these beasts..right before they try to take bite out of me?
            Back in Iowa I started carrying a can of pepper spray and deployed it a time or two…I remember one time the mutt got so close I could see the droplets of spray hitting its face before it kind of swerved away and dived into a ditch like those old WWII air combat films. Never had another issue when passing that farm!

  3. I really enjoyed Fignon’s “We Were Young and Carefree.” I was there when he lost LeTour to LeMond. He was sort of a villain at the time to LeMond fans, but handled it all pretty well IMHO.
    RIP Fignon.

  4. Fignon did organise other races too, didn’t he ? I vaguely remember about a Paris- Corrèze… Was it a complement to Paris-Nice, or to start a (smaller) rival race ?

  5. Ref the Montfroc-joke
    In Denmark we have a small but in cycling well known town called “Odder” (town of long gone Team Chicky World and Team Fakta and Kim Andersen (6-8 km outside)). In English that is an otter, but in Danish it is pronounced like “other” and the whenever any race is nearby, someone invariaby goes along the lines of “-And now we are going the Odder way” which can confuse foreign DSs.
    Radio tour is normally rather “stiff upper lip” and facts, but occasionally it is graced with one-liners, especially in races that are not normally televised and thus slightly less formal. Some Commissaires are also pretty adept at this, the commissaire’s channel can be a channel of quite the laughs, believe it or not. In specific when DSs, mechanics, commissaires etc. stop for a break during a lull in action the commentary can be “harsh” in the kindest way 😂

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