By David Hunter
The proper racing continues with another edition of the Race to the Sun. It’s a week full of brilliant stages and exciting racing. Bring it on!
The opening stage has the perfect sting in the tail, with a 1.9km rise at 5.4%. It’s one of those finishes where the sprinters and puncheurs will all think they can win. It promises to be a great finish.
Sprint stage. We have Kristoff, Bennett, Degenkolb, Bauhaus, Groenewegen, Greipel, Cort, Viviani, Bouhanni and Démare. That is a strong sprint field and it promises to be a hard fought final 5km.
Another stage that ends with a little kicker. We have a climb of 1km at 5%, before a flat, final kilometre. Given the cat 3 climb cresting with just 20km remaining, this is not a stage for all the quick men.
The fourth stage is a challenging ITT. It starts with an 8km climb at 2%, then a fast descent, before a kilometre at 8%. This promises to be a tough TT for some of the GC riders.
Time for the mountains to begin. The big climb comes after just 76.5km, making it unlikely to have a big impact. This could be a day for the breakaway.
With lots of cat 2 climbs, this promises to be an interesting day in the saddle. None of the climbs are that hard, but we have 1.8km at 10% cresting with just 8.5km remaining. We then have a short descent, before a grind up to the finishing line. This is a great day for the late attackers.
The GC battle begins. The stage ends with a mountaintop finish and the big climbers will be looking forward to the test. The climb is a fairly steady effort, but very long. At this time of the year, expect big gaps.
The final stage promises to be a lot of fun! The organisers have decided to alter the final stage, after climbing Col d’Èze, the riders descend, but now climb Col des Quatre chemins, before the finish in Nice. This means we should see a smaller group coming to the line together.
This is an important part of Paris-Nice. Almost for the first time in the year, riders are really keen on the KOM jersey and potential breakaway glory. The KOM jersey was won by Lilian Calmejane, in 2017, but he should be focused on the GC this year. In 2016 it was Antoine Duchesne who won the jersey, also for Direct Energie. Other recent winners have been Thomas De Gendt, Pim Ligthart and Johann Tschopp.
For teams like Direct Energie and Fortuneo – Samsic, breakaways are a vital part of every stage. They need to make the move to ensure maximum TV coverage for their sponsors, missing the break means an unhappy director! I think Direct Energie will look towards Fabien Grellier and Fortuneo will probably go with Anthony Delaplace.
Other teams will also want to be involved and I would expect to see Nicolas Edet, Jay Thomson, Ben King, Evaldas Siskevicius and Tom Scully getting plenty of TV time this week. They will all hope that Thomas De Gendt is after a quiet week!
Not looking very good. Expect to see lots of rain, wind and maybe some snow. It promises to be a fairly epic edition of the race. As we saw last season, when it gets windy, the GC can be blown apart. As we head south, the wind is mainly coming across the bunch. The GC riders will need to take care during the early stages.
Bauke Mollema – the Dutchman has started the season well, finishing 4th in the Algarve. After a year with limited chances to chase personal glory, he’ll be delighted to be the main man again. He can climb, he can TT and he can take bonus seconds. Mollema ticks all the boxes for Paris-Nice and he’ll be hoping for a big result. Despite a great career, he’s yet to win a big stage race.
Tony Gallopin – now riding for AG2R, he started the season with a brilliant win in Bessèges, including a win in the ITT. He will certainly notice a difference in the standard of his TT bike, something that will help him in this race. Last year, he was 3rd in the TT and sitting 2nd on GC, but he had a bad day in the mountains. Gallopin is a classy bike rider, but he does have a weakness in the high mountains, he’ll be glad there is only one big climb in this year’s race. This gives Gallopin a great chance of doing something, especially with the two uphill sprints.
Tejay Van Garderen – started the season with 3rd place in the Algarve, a great opening to the year. 2017 was a funny year for the American, as he looked to rediscover former glories. He was 5th in Catalunya and 6th in Romandie, before setting off for the Giro. In Italy, he quickly fell out of the GC picture, but managed to take his first grand tour victory. After that, he headed for the Vuelta and managed to finish 10th on GC, not what he’d hoped for. It will be interesting to see how 2018 turns out for the American, especially as it’s contract year.
Tim Wellens – after a stunning start to the year, Wellens will be confident of challenging for the overall title. For a long time, he’s been focused on stage wins, but now he seems to be fulfilling his potential as GC winner. This route is wonderful for him, with lots of stages suited to his attacking nature and after a strong TT in Andalucía, he’ll be confident of not losing too much time to his rivals. This will be his last race until the Ardennes, expect to see him going full gas.
Fuglsang & Sanchez – the Astana duo will again be looking for some big results. They were 2nd and 3rd in Valenciana, quickly followed by 4th and 5th in Andalucía. Safe to say, they have enjoyed a fine start to the year. Having two men high on GC will certainly give them options, especially in the final stage, and I think they will look to break Sky’s dominance in this race.
Ion Izagirre – the Basque rider is always a strong candidate in 1 week stage races. His season has started relatively slowly, but this will be his first target of 2018. He will go strong in the TT and look to hang with the best in the mountains. If his form is good, he should be able to challenge for the top 5.
Julian Alaphilippe – the Frenchman took a stunning win in the TT last year, putting him into the yellow jersey. A tough day in the mountains ended his stay in yellow, but this route looks better for him. He took a win in Colombia and impressed in Abu Dhabi, it looks like his form is peaking for this race. The French would love a home winner, Jalabert’s win in 1997 was the last time this happened. He has a great chance of winning bonus seconds in the uphill sprints, making him a strong candidate to take the yellow jersey. The big moment for him will be the mountaintop finish.
Ilnur Zakarin – enjoying a slow start to the year. He raced in Abu Dhabi, but he was only there for training, this will be his first target of the season. The Russian enjoyed a good 2017, fishing 5th in the Giro and 3rd in the Vuelta. He would have been very pleased with his progression, but frustrated to miss out on a win throughout the whole year, apart from the Russian TT title. He will be hoping to improve his 6th place from last year.
Team Sky – the Brits usually dominate this race, having won it in five of the last six years. The only man to spoil their party was Carlos Betancur, who benefited from a Geraint Thomas crash. Sergio Henao is the defending champion, but they also arrive with De La Cruz and Poels as potential GC leaders. Poels was poor in Valenciana, but returned to form in Andalucía. De La Cruz has been on domestique duties, but still managed to win the TT in Spain. As for the defending champion, he won the Colombian RR and performed well in Oro y Paz, where his teammate took the overall. The Colombian usually seems to start the season well, but his performance in the TT will decide who leads Team Sky in the mountains. Having multiple riders high on GC, clearly puts them into a strong position.
To win this edition of Paris-Nice you have to have the following attributes:-
- Peform well in cold conditions.
- Have a strong team.
- Perform well in a TT.
- Be tactically astute.
I think that Team Sky will continue their dominance and Wout Poels will take the win.
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