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PARIS, France (VN) – The 80th edition of Paris-Nice has attracted the strongest field of the season so far.
It is headed by three-time Vuelta a España winner Primož Roglič, Vuelta and Giro d’Italia winner Nairo Quintana, two-time defending Paris-Nice champion Max Schachmann, Simon and Adam Yates, each the leader of their respective teams, in-form Americans Brandon McNulty and Matteo Jorgenson, plus a strong cast of sprinters led by Sam Bennett, Fabio Jakobsen, Dylan Groenewegen, and Jasper Philipsen.
Starting in Mantes-la-Ville, just to the west of Paris, on Saturday and finishing with its traditional frantic scurry through the hills above Nice on March 13, “The Race to the Sun” features a typically intriguing mix of stages across its eight-day southerly trek.
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The stand-out stages are the 13.4km time trial to Montluçon on day four, the rugged run through the Ardèche that follows it on day five, the penultimate stage’s summit finish on the Col de Turini, and, of course, the finale in Nice’s hilly hinterland on the last Sunday.
The race is forecast to start in bright but cold conditions Sunday for an undulating stage based on Mantes-la-Ville, where Bora-Hansgrohe’s Bennett, QuickStep-Alpha Vinyl’s Jakobsen, BikeExchange-Jayco’s Groenewegen, and Alpecin-Fenix’s Philipsen should be in the mix in what promises to be an enthralling finale.
The 2021 Paris-Roubaix champion Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious) and 2021 Paris-Nice stage-winner Cees Bol (Team DSM) will also fancy their chances, as will the in-form Bryan Coquard (Cofidis) and Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty Gobert Matériaux).
The race takes its first big step south on day two, where the finish in Orléans should be another one for the sprinters. Much will depend, though, on the strength and direction of the wind in the flatlands to the south of the French capital.
Stage 3 continues the southward trajectory, running from Vierzon to Dun-le-Palestel. The final third of the stage is rolling and features three category 3 climbs, giving a good opportunity to breakaway riders, although it should come back together for another bunch gallop given the number and quality of the sprinters in the field.
The time trial on day four runs for 13.4 undulating kilometers between Domérat and Montluçon, where world champion Julian Alaphilippe was brought up. There’s a sharp rise over the final 700 meters up to the finish line.
EF Education-EasyPost’s Stefan Bissegger, winner of the equivalent stage last year, looks like the rider to beat after he edged out world and Olympic time trial champion Filippo Ganna in the TT at the recent UAE Tour – the Italian, it’s worth noting, has opted to ride Tirreno-Adriatico instead of Paris-Nice.
The Swiss will face strong opposition from Jumbo-Visma, whose team includes two-time world time trial champion Rohan Dennis and the irrepressible all-around talent of Wout van Aert, as well as their leader Roglič. Groupama-FDJ’s European time trial champion Stefan Küng will be another contender for victory.
Stage 5 brings the first of the bigger hills. Starting in Saint-Just-Saint-Rambert, just to the west of Saint-Étienne, and finishing in Saint-Sauveur-de-Montagut, it crosses the first-category Croix de Chaubouret early on, then four further climbs when it reaches the Ardèche, including two more first-category tests.
It looks like an ideal breakaway opportunity, suitable for the likes of Lotto-Soudal’s Thomas De Gendt, Bahrain’s Luis León Sánchez, or Trek-Segafredo duo Jasper Stuyven, and Bauke Mollema.
At 213.6km, the sixth stage between Courthézon and Aubagne is the longest of the race. It’s another rollercoaster ride, bumping over five categorized climbs, the last of them the Col de l’Espigoulier, which is the final obstacle in the GP Marseillaise that opens the French season.
This year’s winner of that one-day race, Arkéa-Samsic’s Amaury Capiot and the runner-up Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) are both on the Paris-Nice start-list.
Unusually, there’s no stage through the hilly interior of Provence towards Nice this year. The race will instead make the transfer by vehicle to the Mediterranean city for the penultimate stage that is sure to draw out the favorites for the overall title.
There are just two categorized climbs – the second-cat Côte de Coursegoules comes early on, the route then bumping onwards towards the finale on the first-category Col de Turini, which rises for 14.9km at an average of 7.3 percent.
Dani Martínez was the winner at this same finish in 2019. Then riding for EF, the Colombian is now one of Ineos’ co-leaders for this race, along with Adam Yates.
Other likely contenders for the stage win include Simon Yates, who finished fourth on the Turini in 2019, AG2R-Citroën duo Ben O’Connor and Aurélien Paret-Peintre, Bahrain’s Wout Poels, Gino Mäder, and Jack Haig, Astana’s Alexey Lutsenko, French duo Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), and David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), and the very in-form Arkéa-Samsic leader Quintana.
Several other names stand out. Firstly, Roglič, winner of three stages last year before his hopes of a first Paris-Nice title were scuttled by a series of crashes on the final day. Secondly, Bora’s two-time defending champion Schachmann, who will be aiming to be in the heart of this contest too, along with his teammate Aleksandr Vlasov, one of the Russian riders not affected by the UCI’s suspension of riders from that nation because he’s registered with a foreign team.
There should be a strong American presence in the GC contest too. UAE Team Emirates’ Brandon McNulty already has two wins and second place at the Tour of the Algarve to his credit this season. Movistar’s Matteo Jorgenson was eighth in this race last year and finished fourth in the recent Tour de la Provence. EF Education-EasyPost’s Neilsen Powless was also in good shape in the recent UAE Tour, where he finished 11th overall.
The race concludes with the traditional short, rapid, and very frenetic run through the hills behind Nice. There are five categorized climbs packed into 116km of racing, the last two the first-category ascents of the Côte de Peille and the Col d’Èze, the latter topping out just 15km from the finish on the swanky seafront of the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, where the GC contest almost always goes right down to the wire.
Stage 1, March 6: Mantes-la-Ville – Mantes-la-Ville, 160km
Stage 2, March 7: Auffargis – Orléans, 159.5km
Stage 3, March 8: Vierzon – Dun-le-Palestel, 191km
Stage 4, March 9: Domérat – Montluçon time trial, 13.4km
Stage 5, March 10: Saint-Just-Saint-Rambert – Saint-Sauveur-de-Montagut, 189km
Stage 6, March 11: Courthézon – Aubagne, 214km
Stage 7, March 12: Nice – Col de Turini, 155.5km
Stage 8, March 13: Nice – Nice, 116km