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Paris-Nice to mark opening round of yearlong battle between Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma

Primož Roglič, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Richie Porte, Steven Kruijswijk lead heavyweight clash between Tour de France playmakers.

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If you’re looking for early hints at what’s to come at this year’s Tour de France, look no further than Paris-Nice.

The two powerhouses of the peloton and likely playmakers of the Tour – Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma – are both lining up in force for the eight-day race, starting Sunday. Defending Vuelta a España champion Primož Roglič tops a Jumbo-Visma team that includes Steven Kruijswijk and George Bennett, while Ineos Grenadiers is taking Giro d’Italia winner Tao Geoghegan Hart and domestiques-de-luxe Richie Porte and Rohan Dennis to the “Race to the Sun.”

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There will be notable omissions from the GC top tier at Paris-Nice, namely defending Tour champ Tadej Pogačar and the returning Chris Froome. But let’s face it, it will be Jumbo-Visma and Ineos calling the shots at the Tour de France in July, and Paris-Nice will give early indications into how they intend to race this summer.

The Giro-conquering duo of Geoghegan Hart and Dennis returns – as will its victim, Jai Hindley. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Roglič makes his season debut at Paris-Nice and is racing to win. Geoghegan Hart enjoyed an attacking start to his season at the Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var and carries big ambition having been handed a prestigious co-leadership role for the Tour.

Are Dave Brailsford’s boys going to stay true to the squad’s new all-out offensive strategy next week? Early indications point both ways. Ineos Grenadiers revitalized its mountain train to send Iván Sosa to victory on the Ventoux at the Tour de la Provence, but Egan Bernal and Filippo Ganna bust into breakaways and threw haymakers at the Étoile de Bessèges.

Will Roglič and Co. continue to put the hammer on the bunch in the way they controlled both last summer’s Tour and the Slovenian’s ride to Vuelta glory the month afterward? Team director Merijn Zeeman recently indicated otherwise.

“Jumbo-Visma will not take the initiative again for three weeks at the Tour,” Zeeman told Het Nieuwsblad this week. “Unless one of the other favorites is in trouble and we can take advantage of it.”

With the exception of Geraint Thomas, Tom Dumoulin, and Sepp Kuss, the two teams are bringing its Tour de France finest to Paris this weekend. If ever there was an early opportunity to test tactics and team cohesion in the long-build toward the Grand Départ, this is it.

Who else to watch for at Paris-Nice

Schachmann returns to defend his title. Photo: James Startt

It won’t be just an Ineos-Jumbo show on the roads of France next week.

Jai Hindley (Sunweb), Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech), David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), and Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) are all possible Tour de France players and will be vying for GC, as will defending champ Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe).

The race packs at least three fast finishes – stages 1, 2, and 5 – and the startlist makes for a who’s who of sprinters.

Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka Assos), Michael Matthews (BikeExchange), Alexander Kristoff (UAE Emirates), John Degenkolb (Lotto-Soudal), and Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) will all be vying for glory Sunday, and it’s only Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) that didn’t get an invite to what is a veritable feast of sprint talent.

Young Americans with form and ambition

Powless climbed with the best to finish 5th overall at the UAE Tour. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates), Neilson Powless (EF Education-Nippo), and Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar) all go into the race with momentum and opportunity.

McNulty, star of last year’s Giro d’Italia, leads the GC battle for his team alongside David de la Cruz. Powless, hot off finishing fifth at the UAE Tour last month, will be looking for more success. Jorgenson hit the ground running at the Tour de la Provence in February and will have room to race for his own opportunities as he heads toward a grand tour debut at the Giro d’Italia in May.

Stages to set your alarms for

Also read: How to watch Paris-Nice in North America

Stage 4 – Wednesday, March 10: Chalet sur Saône to Chiroubles

Hilly all day and with a 10 percent, 1,200-meter kick to the line, stage 4 could prove tough to control and see several GC riders out of the running early if they’re not on the ball. It makes for a mini Ardennes classic that could see 2020 Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner Roglič in the mix for the finishing kick in Chiroubles.

Stage 7 – Saturday, March 13: Nice to La Colmiane

The GC will likely be decided on the long grind to La Colmiane on Saturday. Schachmann cemented his victory on the 16-kilometer ascent last year in what was the last day of action before the race – and the whole cycling calendar – shut down under the shadow of COVID.

This year, the summit finish could give a strong indication of how Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma intends to race for the season to come in what will hopefully be a schedule uninterrupted by the pandemic that continues to rage through Europe.

Stage 8 – Sunday, March 14: Nice – Nice

Stage 8 follows the familiar format long-used by race organizers ASO. The 110km circuit through the foothills of the Alps typically makes for fast and furious racing, and while it doesn’t always prove the kingmaker in the classification, it has often provided one of the most exciting days of racing of the spring.