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Preview: Van Garderen, Gesink, Talansky primed for Paris-Nice showdown

The route

This year’s Paris-Nice is bookended by two individual races against the clock: a short, fast, technical prologue will put a rider into the leader’s jersey, and a final-stage uphill time trial on the historic Col d’Eze will sort out the general classification. In between, the peloton will tackle six road stages, with stage 5 testing the mettle of the overall contenders as they race to the finish on Lure Mountain. Along the way, rolling profiles will bring the breakaway specialists to the fore, especially if there’s inclement weather or crosswinds.

On paper, this year’s stages look as if they will likely go down as follows (but of course the beauty of bike racing is that riders are constantly delighting us with surprises).

At just under 3km, the prologue is ideally suited to a sprinter adept at waxing the perfect line through the numerous corners and punching it out of the turns. Mostly flat, stages 2 and 3 should see field sprints rule the day, while stage 4, with its up-and-down profile, could likely see a breakaway make it to the line.

Stage 5 features the climb of Lure Mountain, which is nearly 14 kilometers long and the highest point ever reached in the race’s history. The day should go to a pure climber and reorder the general classification. (The last time the race went up the Lure, in 2009, Contador attacked and won solo; the next day he bonked and lost the overall lead.)

While stage 6 finishes on Nice’s pancake-flat Promenade des Anglais, several categorized climbs — including the Cat. 1 Côte de Cabris and the Col du Ferrier — make it a perfect stage for attacking riders. Finally, stage 7 finishes things up with the 9.6km uphill time trial; those who still have GC aspirations will fight for seconds and podium places.

71st Paris-Nice, March 3-10
Prologue: Sunday, March 3, Houilles — Houilles (2.9km)
Stage 1: Monday, March 4, Saint-Germain-en-Laye — Nemours (195km)
Stage 2: Tuesday, March 5, Vimory — Cérilly (200.5km)
Stage 3: Wednesday, March 6, Chatel-Guyon — Brioude (171km)
Stage 4: Thursday, March 7, Brioude — Saint-Vallier (199.5km)
Stage 5: Friday, March 8, Châteauneuf-du-Pape — Montagne de Lure (176km)
Stage 6: Saturday, March 9, Manosque — Nice (220km)
Stage 7: Sunday, March 10, Nice — Col d’Eze (9.6km)

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