By David Hunter
Bois d’Arcy – Bois d’Arcy 148.5km
The race begins with a day for the sprinters.
We have a couple of cat 3 climbs, mainly to give away the KOM jersey, but this stage is all about the final 10km.
This is the only concern for the sprinters. The road kicks up at 5% for a full kilometre, as we approach the flamme rouge. We then descend before a false flat sprint.
With a final corner coming with 250m to go, this is a complicated sprint finish. Lose positions on the climb and you’ll struggle to get back to the front. Positioning and a solid lead out is very important.
Sonny Colbrelli – Bahrain have Colbrelli and Bonifazio, so we’ll have to wait and see who gets the nod. Given the nature of this finish, I’d go with Colbrelli. His time in Belgium wasn’t very successful, he’ll be happy to be away from cobbles! Should finish in the top 10.
John Degenkolb – this stage does look good for the German. He will have help from Rast, Gogl and Theuns, a solid looking sprint train. The climb is brilliant for Degenkolb, as he is brilliant on slopes like this. He will remain right at the front of the bunch, the same goes for Theuns. The Belgian will be vital in the final kilometre, keeping Degenkolb in a good position.
Dylan Groenewegen – the Dutchman had a solid weekend in Belgium, but still no win! Like Degenkolb, he will like the climb near the end of the stage and will hope to finish on the podium. The problem for Jumbo is his sprint train, they won’t be able to put Groenwegen on the front with 200m to go. If he’s to win, he’ll need to come past a few sprinters.
Nacer Bouhanni – another sprinter that is still without a win. He is back at a race he likes, he already has three wins to his name in PN. With Soupe and Laporte, he will be put in the best possible position for the stage. I expect them to lead round the final corner and then we’ll see if the Frenchman can sprint for glory. It’s incredible to think that he’s still an underrated rider.
Arnaud Demare – after a very good start to the season, he faltered in the Algarve, but had a good weekend in Belgium. He is here with his full train, FDJ can commit a full squad to their fast finisher. That does make them unlike most other teams, who have a GC rider and sprint train. This should guarantee that they play a major part in the closing kilometres of the stage, and he’ll enjoy the kicker before the flamme rouge. He won stage 1 last year, can he repeat his success?
Magnus Cort Nielsen – two wins already in 2017 for the exciting young Dane. Orica-Scott arrive with a very good sprint train. The likes of Albasini, Gerrans and Docker will be a huge help in the closing stages. He lacks the top end speed of his rivals, but that can be overcome with good positioning.
Alexander Kristoff – with four wins to his name already this year, the Norwegian has started the season on fire. He crashed hard in Omloop, but still managed to complete Kuurne. We shall have to see if he has suffered any delayed injuries form hitting the cobbles.
Andre Greipel – just like in Algarve, Greipel arrives with a depleted sprint train. Lotto Soudal have made the decision to keep their classics squad together for the early part of the season, that means Greipel doesn’t have much help here. That usually means he’ll struggle to win, just like in Abu Dhabi, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Michael Matthews – the big Aussie opens his 2017 season. We shall have to see how much time he has devoted to climbing over the winter, thus slowing his sprinting speed. He really is an incredible talent, but we only saw him taking one sprint victory in 2016, I’m not counting La Rioja! His win in PN was impressive, but it was an uphill sprint. I’m not sure he has the speed to contend with the very fastest in this race.
Marcel Kittel – a whole kilometre at 5% just 1 km before the finish? Sounds too hard for big Marcel. He is a rider that cannot climb at the same speed as the front of the bunch and is sure to drift down the pack. It will be very hard to get him back into position.
Sam Bennett – he’s hoping to reap the rewards of altitude training with Peter Sagan. He will be looked after by Sagan’s pals, Baska and Kolar, a decent sprint train. Bennett looked good in Australia, but I have no idea how he’ll respond after his spell in the mountains.
Bryan Coquard – can he take his first world tour win? He won a stage in both Valenciana and Ruta del Sol, so confidence won’t be a problem. He climbs very well, so he’ll be happy about the kick before the line. I just struggle to see him being faster than all the sprinters mentioned above.
That final hill is screaming out for a late attack. A whole kilometre does give a rider a chance of gapping the bunch, before descending down to the finishing line. We have a range of riders who would like to make a move:- Gilbert, Naesen, Rowe, Lutsenko, Valgren, Gerrans, Finetto and Bouet. Coming so close to the finish, an attack could stay away.
There will be rain in the air for most of the day and it certainly won’t be warm!
It’s France. It’s Paris-Nice. It’s Nacer Bouhanni. His train looks stronger that his rivals and I think they’ll get it spot on.
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