By David Hunter
Chatou – Meudon 135km
The race begins with a stage that will interest a number of riders.
At just 135km, it’s an easy start for the bunch. We have two climbs in the middle of the stage, this should give the KOM jersey to a member of the breakaway. Once they have been dealt with, the stage gets very interesting near the end.
Through the 5km banner, the fight to control the bunch will be on. There is a very tight corner with 2km remaining and this is where the road starts to kick up. The final 2km rises at around 5%.
Not only does the road rise, but it is very narrow and on cobbles! The cobbles are nice and smooth, it’s the width of the road that will cause problems. If riders are poorly positioned, there is little chance of moving up the bunch. Also, if a rider attacks, it is possible for their team to block the road.
Can the sprinters hang on? That is the big question. Some will be dropped, but not all.
Rain and some wind coming from the south. The direction is good for echelons, but it all depends on the strength of the wind. The current forecast doesn’t suggest it will be strong enough for some fun! Watch out for FDJ, they were the main team putting everyone in the gutter last year.
Julian Alaphilippe – 2km at 5%, this sounds perfect for the QuickStep man. He has a fast sprint, but will be little worried about some of the sprinters holding on. Positioning going onto the climb will be very important, but he can call upon the QuickStep sprint train to help him out. That does bring up an interesting problem, does Viviani want this stage? The DS will have a big decision to make, I think they’ll back both riders and see if Viviani can hold on. That would allow Alaphilippe the chance to attack in the closing metres.
Arnaud Démare – 9th in Omloop and 2nd in Kuurne, the Frenchman enjoyed the opening weekend of the season. FDJ decided to slim down his race programme, which sees him missing many of the “smaller” French races, so he can focus on his big targets. This is a strategy I like, as Démare tries to take another step up the ladder of pro cycling. 2017 was a good year for him, taking a win in this race and the Tour de France. Winning on home soil is a massive deal for all riders. After his start to the year, I expect 2018 to be even better.
Edward Theuns – I do like this finish for Eddie. He is capable of producing a lot of watts when the road goes up. The finish is too hard for Bauhaus, allowing Sunweb to throw all their resources behind Theuns. After finishing 6th in Omloop, he has clearly enjoyed a good winter. Things started to click for Theuns towards the end of 2017, taking his first World Tour win in the BinckBank Tour and quickly following that up with another in the Tour of Turkey. He is a serious contender for this stage.
Tony Gallopin – should go well in this finish, but he’s slower than the sprinters and Alaphilippe. To win, he’s going to have to attack near the end and it won’t be easy escaping the bunch.
Timo Roosen – I think the finish is too hard for Groenewegen, allowing some freedom for Roosen. He’s started the season in great form, taking 3rd place on the Hatta Dam. He has the power needed to smash up this climb and surprise a few of his rivals.
Dylan Teuns – not hard enough for him.
Alexander Kristoff – after a slow start in Dubai, he took stage wins in Oman and Abu Dhabi. That will have lifted some of the pressure from his shoulders, it’s always nice to take an early win for your new team. The climb shouldn’t be too hard for the Norwegian, he is very capable of surviving with the best on a 2km climb. One problem might be positioning coming into the climb, he doesn’t have a great sprint train with him. If it’s too hard for him, UAE also have Dan Martin and Rui Costa.
Matteo Trentin – performed well at the weekend, but didn’t have anything to show from it. Like many of the quick men, this is a finish which he would hope to do well in. A fast finisher, he also climbs well. Looking at his team, he should be put into a good position by Hayman and Edmondson, which will give him an advantage of some of his rivals.
Magnus Cort Nielsen – the Dane does love a difficult finish. After taking a stage win in Oman, confidence is up. If you cast your mind back to the Tour of Denmark, you will know that Cort likes the finish in Vejle, which is much harder than this. Astana have started the season in dominant form, I would expect to see them put Cort in a good position at the foot of the climb.
Tim Wellens – won’t win the sprint, but he’ll certainly attack on the climb. The sprinter teams will have to be very watchful of Wellens, as his attack could distance some of the quick men. It’s unlikely he’ll take the win, but he’ll be fun to watch.
This is a difficult finish, but I think that a couple of the sprinters will do well. Given his level at the weekend, I think we’ll see Arnaud Démare taking another win in Paris-Nice.
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