Your New Favorite Race: Paris-Nice

"The Race to the Sun" kicks off Sunday and traverses through France, from north to South, for eight days.

Welcome to the VeloNews 2017 WorldTour fan guide. Great news: There are tons of cycling races all season! Less-great news: Like trying to pick an ice cream flavor at Ben & Jerry’s, tons of choices can be overwhelming. So, we’ll try to help out by giving you quick, fun overviews of major races. Stay tuned for more previews.

Need to pick Your New Favorite Team? Here are 11 teams you should follow in the 2017 season >>

Your New Favorite Race: Paris-Nice, March 5-12.

Why should you care about this race? You will get treated to some early season sprinting as Paris-Nice attracts a number of top speedsters, such as Nacer Bouhanni, Marcel Kittel, and André Greipel. GC leaders like Romain Bardet, Richie Porte, and Alberto Contador will also test their mettle in “The Race to the Sun.” As an early season race, Paris-Nice has its moments, but those stars are still finding their form as they stay focused on being at their best in July, so Paris-Nice lacks some impetus. However, as a more abstract concept, as a historical mainstay, Paris-Nice is great. Sean Kelly won the race seven (seven!) times. And how’s this for an all-star cast of former winners: Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, Miguel Indurain, and Raymond Poulidor.

Most dramatic edition in recent history? Last year’s showdown on Col d’Eze was quite a doozy, and the climb will again be the final challenge on the last day, stage 8. Geraint Thomas hung tough in 2016 while Alberto Contador assailed him on the race’s finale around Nice, and the Sky rider said afterward, “Those were the hardest 20-odd kilometers of my career.”

But Contador has treated us to a number of other thrilling races at Paris-Nice, like in 2010, when he beat Alejandro Valverde by 11 seconds (although Valverde was later stripped of the win due to a doping investigation). Let’s not forget the wild final stage in the 2005 edition, which Bobby Julich narrowly won to become the first American champion in the race. Yes, this is a very young and spry Contador on the attack, getting sketchy:

Your race’s defining feature: Outerwear — lots of jackets, booties, neck-gaiters, and gloves in the peloton. Paris-Nice is known for cold starts in northern France, and sometimes stages will be cancelled, like the Mount Brouilly stage in 2016. This year, they’ll try it again with a stage 4 TT finishing on Mount Brouilly. Does Castelli make a Gabba TT skinsuit? Fortunately, aero helmets will be warmer without all those vents.

Tom Jelte Slagter mugged for the camera before being whisked off to a warm hotel after stage 3 of Paris-Nice 2016 was cancelled. Photo:

But the thing is … Yeah, like we said, the Paris-Nice is known for a few cancelled stages from time to time. This can make the GC race a bit wonky if, say, one of the week’s most pivotal mountain stages gets canned. Hopefully this year they will be able to finish stage 7 (the queen stage) atop the Col de la Couillole, a stout category 1 climb to 1,662 meters.

Also, this race has bit of sad history. On stage 2 in 2003, Andrei Kivilev crashed and died due to head trauma. He was not wearing a helmet, which prompted pro cycling to eventually require helmets during races.

Andrei Kivilev died in the 2003 Paris-Nice race. Photo: Tim De Waele | (File).

Ladies first? No dice. The race has been around for 74 years but never ran a women’s edition. You’ll have to wait until Saturday, March 11 for Ronde van Drenthe in the Netherlands.

Who are you betting your beer money on this year? Richie Porte (BMC Racing) looks to be on fine form after winning the Santos Tour Down Under in January. He’s won Paris-Nice twice, in 2013 and 2015. That said, Contador looked to be climbing well at Ruta del Sol — but he wasn’t so strong that he pulled out of the pedals and nearly crashed (see above).

Full Paris-Nice preview >>