NICE (VN) — Well we made it! This year’s Paris-Nice race actually made it to Nice—well sort of. After all with the spread of the coronavirus around the world, the traditional loop around the backhills of Nice on the final stage was canceled this year. But Saturday’s stage did start on the Place Massena in downtown Nice. And for just about everyone here, such a feat must go down as at least a modest success. With nearly every major sporting event in the world being postponed or canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, there was little guarantee that this year’s ‘Race to the Sun’ would actually make it as far as this Mediterranean coast city that is at the origin of this historic week.
In many ways, this year’s event seemed to stumble out of the starting blocks as several teams—including defending champs Ineos—opted out, while extreme sanitary measures kept fans away. But despite the tentative start, the racing was a grueling and suspense-filled affair from day one. Winds and rains wreaked havoc on the peloton in the opening two stages, and virtually no stage could be considered predictable.
And this year’s race produced a memorable winner in German rider Max Schachmann, who dominated the race from start to finish. After all, the Bora-Hansgrohe rider won the opening stage to take over the yellow jersey, narrowly missed out on victory in the mid-week time trial, and controlled the lead masterfully on the final climbing stages.
But that is not to say Schachmann’s victory came easily, as he had to fight off a formidable assault from Tiesj Benoot and his Sunweb Team. The German team went on the offensive on Friday’s penultimate stage to Apt, with Benoot attacking in the final and riding to a solo victory to move within 30 seconds.
And today’s final stage, which finished on La Colmiane Climb in the backhills of Nice, proved to be another hyper-aggressive day of racing, as strongmen Julian Alaphilippe and Thomas de Gendt powered away on the first climb of the day and kept the pressure on throughout this 166.5-kilometer stage. And just when it seemed as though the Belgian long-break specialist might paint another of his masterpieces, Colombian climbing ace Nairo Quintana sprinted away from the lead group for another impressive victory this season. His overwhelming performance here served as a subtle reminder that, if it were not for his crash on stage two, this year’s Paris-Nice race could have been quite different.
But Schachmann stayed out of trouble when others failed, and rode with the consistency needed to win a stage race like Paris-Nice. He and his Bora-Hansgrohe team controlled the final day perfectly, never giving the breakaway more than a three-minute lead. And even when Benoot chased after Quintana in the final kilometers, Schachmann did not panic and finished less than 10 seconds behind Benoot. Clearly relieved to finally cross the finish line, the German was all-smiles on the final victory podium.
But then nearly everyone here was relieved in some way to have actually finished this race. The only problem is of course—no one really knows when the next race will be.