Every March, we get a glimpse of the season’s top grand tour stars in two overlapping one-week races, Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico. It’s a prognosticator’s dream — who is showing form? Who is behind on their training? Did one of the stars crash out? As always, we have a lot of talking points coming out of these two tune-up races. Time for a roundtable!
Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico: Which event provided the better viewing experience?
Fred Dreier @freddreier: Surprise winner Paris-Nice took the “best watch” prize this year, due to the chaos on that final day. Chapeau to the riders for remaining aggressive, despite the torrential downpour. I had high hopes for Tirreno-Adriatico, however the summit finish on stage 4 was simply not long or steep enough to create huge gaps.
Spencer Powlison @spino_powerlegs: By a long shot, Paris-Nice was more entertaining. The last two stages were terrific, with Yates climbing into the lead with a bold attack and then losing it by seconds on the rainy ride around Nice in stage 8. Plus, there were several early stages won by unexpected breakaways. On the other hand, Tirreno has got to get rid of that opening team time trial. It overshadows most of the race, creating time gaps that don’t do a one-week race any good. A seven-day event should be all about attacking and suspense, not clawing back seconds on whichever BMC rider crossed the line first in stage 1.
Andrew Hood @eurohoody: Despite the hyped, better field at Tirreno, overall the racing was more aggressive and unpredictable at Paris-Nice. That’s in large part to the creative course design and harder terrain at Paris-Nice. Sunday’s finale was the best day of stage-race racing so far in 2018.
Dane Cash @danecash: Paris-Nice by a mile. The number of winning long-distance attacks was enough to seal the deal anyway, but Tirreno-Adriatico didn’t help itself with an all-too-decisive team time trial. A boring opening stage proved to be the most important day of the whole race.
Who (or what) was the biggest surprise coming out of Paris-Nice? Tirreno-Adriatico?
Fred: For P-N the surprise was Sky’s weakness. I had assumed that Wout Poels and Sergio Henao would mop the floors with the field. After Poels crashed, there was no Plan B. For T-A the surprise was Tiesj Benoot finishing fourth overall. Is there anything he can’t do?
Spencer: I’ll admit it: I was sleeping on Marc Soler, and he really surprised me in winning the overall at Paris-Nice. Chapeau, señor. Froome surprised me by being well off the pace at Tirreno-Adriatico. More on that in a sec, but for chrissake … He shouldn’t be finishing behind guys like Ivan Santaromita or Ben Hermans on a climbing stage!
Andrew: Soler winning the overall at P-N. I didn’t see that one coming on the final day, but hat’s off to the up-and-comer. He took it to the others and came away with a huge victory. To the brave go the spoils, right? At Tirreno, I was very surprised to see how well Kittel was sprinting. He seemed well off his best at the desert races but was flying in Italy. His two victories in Tirreno were quality wins and puts him right back at the front for the best sprinter honors. Can’t wait to see a showdown with Kittel and Dylan Groenewegen, who was the fastest at Paris-Nice, most likely at Scheldeprijs.
Dane: The big Paris-Nice surprise for me was probably Dylan Teuns, who finished second in the queen stage and fifth overall. He had a strong 2017 but I still wasn’t expecting him to be able to climb like that in a big race like Paris-Nice. For Tirreno-Adriatico, it has to be Tiesj Benoot. He just keeps defying expectations.
Adam or Simon: Which Yates twin is happier with the last few days of racing?
Fred: Adam is happier because he won a stage and then actually went forward in GC during the individual time trial. Simon has to be a bit disappointed with his performance on the final day of P-N, as it was both his tactics and his team’s comparative weakness that allowed the winning break containing Soler to escape.
Spencer: I think Simon should be happier because his win came on a more selective stage, one that better indicates his form on a tough day of climbing. Adam’s win is a good one (he beat Sagan after all!), but that was a bit more of a tactical win. Sure, Simon should be bummed to lose the overall on the final day of Paris-Nice, but between the weather and a somewhat out-gunned team, there were factors beyond his control Sunday.
Andrew: Can you even tell them apart? Both were impressive, and reveal that both could be on big seasons. Simon’s got to be disappointed with letting Paris-Nice ride away from him. Now we just have to see the Yates brothers vs. the Izagirre brothers all in the same race, an announcer’s nightmare.
Dane: Probably Adam, considering he didn’t have to go through the heartbreak of watching Marc Soler nab his leader’s jersey in the final stage the way Simon did at Paris-Nice. Simon’s climbing performance, however, should give him plenty of confidence ahead of his grand tour objectives.
Chris Froome was a non-factor at Tirreno-Adriatico. Should he be concerned?
Fred: I don’t think so. Froome still has nearly two months to build up for the Giro d’Italia. These first outings were more to test his public relations skills than to test his legs and lungs. And hey, I think he passed the PR test.
Spencer: Froome didn’t have to win Tirreno, but he should have been part of the conversation. Putting aside his “mechanical” in stage 5, his ride in the uphill finish the day prior was B-A-D bad. That climb was not nearly selective enough for the four-time TDF champ to be dropped so easily.
Andrew: It’s hard not to imagine all this Salbutamol business not having some impact on Froome. Having said that, it’s also easy to imagine that Froome is subconsciously or even purposely not putting himself into a podium position in these early races simply to avoid more annoying questions from the media. With the Giro-Tour double still the goal, Froome won’t want to be peaking too soon anyway. He certainly looks very fit.
Dane: Nope. He was quiet all winter and spring last year too and then delivered cycling’s first grand tour double in years. He should be concerned about a possible ban from the sport, and maybe the future of his team — but not his form in March.
Whose Milano-Sanremo stock has risen the most in the last week?
Fred: If he races, Dylan Groenewegen has seen his stock rise. As has both Marcel Kittel and Arnaud Démare.
Spencer: It’s pretty hard for Michal Kwiatkowski’s stock to rise any higher, but winning the Tirreno overall confirmed him at the top of my list. However, Peter Sagan gets a bonus mention for his incredible ride in stage 6, chasing back in the final kilometers to nearly win a sprint. Now that’s what sharp form and sangfroid look like, folks.
Andrew: Sagan. Even though he didn’t win this week at Tirreno, he’s looking stronger than ever. He’s been in the top-10 in 10 of his 14 race days so far in 2018. He’ll be flying for Milano-Sanremo and I think this year he will finally win it, especially with a few of the faster finishers out for one reason or another.
Dane: Several riders saw their stocks go up or down, but I’ll have to say Kittel, simply because he went from maybe not riding Sanremo to being in or around the top 10 of possible winners. Most of the other favorites were already riding high coming into this week’s racing. Bonus analysis: I’m ambivalent on whether Sagan did anything to up his stock in Tirreno. His bike handling skills were on full display, but three second-place finishes might weigh on a guy who not-so-long-ago couldn’t shake his runner-up blues. All that said, he’s still a deserving bookies’ favorite for Sanremo.