Paris Nice 2016 – Stage 3 Preview

By David Hunter

Cusset – Mont Brouilly 165.5km

It’s time for the GC riders to come out to play.pn etapa 3

This will give us the early indications of form and who could potentially win the race. The climb might only be a cat 2, but it’s tough.paris niza etapa 3

Officially the climb is 3km at 7.7%, but it’s harder than it sounds.

mont brouilly

Even this graphic doesn’t quite explain the difficulty of the closing kilometres, I prefer this one.mont brouilly

You can see the staircase that awaits the riders, with plenty of sections above 10%. At just 3km, it is short enough to interest the puncheurs. However, if the GC riders really apply the pressure, it could be a very selective day.

We were here in 2014, but the stage didn’t finish at the top of the climb, that changes the approach. Tom Slagter was the rider who escaped the bunch and crested the climb first, with Geraint Thomas following closely behind.

Despite being a short stage, it will be tough. There are plenty of categorised climbs and we have to deal with Brouilly on two occasions. If the puncheurs are to survive, they’ll have to be on the top of their game.

In the puncheur category, we have:-

Philippe Gilbert, Tony Gallopin, Alexis Vuillermoz, Michael Matthews, Pieter Serry, Arthur Vichot, Gorka Izagirre, Julien Simon, Tom-Jelte Slagter, Fabio Felline, Sylvain Chavanel, Paddy Bevin and Dries Devenyns.

The climbers who could win are:-

Richie Porte, Simon Spilak, Ilnur Zakarin, Rui Costa, Geraint Thomas, Sergio Henao, Romain Bardet, Simon Yates, Alberto Contador, Ion Izagirre, LL Sanchez, Tom Dumoulin, Andrew Talansky and Wilco Kelderman.

That is an abundance of talent, arguments could be made for all of them. In my usual fashion, I will narrow down the list. From the puncheurs, only Gallopin, Vuillermoz, Matthews, Slagter and Felline could win this stage.

When I think about this climb, I can’t shake memories of Mur de Bretagne and Willunga Hill out of my head. They are not the same as Brouilly, but do give an interesting comparision.

Vuillermoz won the Bretagne stage in the 2015 TDF, with Gallopin in 5th, Contador 14th and Simon 18th.

Porte has destroyed Willunga Hill on two occasions, this year beating off a fine challenge from Sergio Henao. Ruben Fernandez finished in 6th and Paddy Bevin in 10th. I think this climb is actually harder than both climbs I have compared it to. If I compare it to a climb that is shorter but harder, I think of Mur de Huy. In the 2015 TDF stage, Vuillermoz was 3rd, Gallopin 5th and Yates in 10th. In 2015 Fleche Wallone, Albasini was 3rd, Vuillermoz 6th, Henao 7th, Slagter 9th and Kelderman 10th.

The names of Porte, Vuillermoz, Henao and Gallopin are never far away. Team orders will also play a big part in this stage, as Vuillermoz might have to work for Bardet, with Henao fulfilling the same role for Geraint Thomas. As bonus seconds will be critical, team leaders need to be given the best chance of winning the stage. I don’t see Henao getting an opportunity to attack, but Vuillermoz should have a chance. Considering his record on the Mur de Huy and Mur de Bretagne, he has to have a big chance of success. Not only can he climb, but the Frenchman also packs a fine sprint.

Speaking of packing a sprint, Tom-Jelte Slagter is looking in fine form. 2015 was disappointing but he did eventually win two stages in the Tour of Alberta and was 4th in Quebec. He’s maintained a good level of form at the start of 2016, taking a stage win in Haut-Var. He has a fine record in Paris-Nice, winning two stages in 2014. He’s done well on Willunga Hill and is a consistent performer in Fleche Wallone. This is a stage that really suits the Dutchman.

Michael Matthews will not only hope to hold onto the yellow jersey, he will think he can win this stage. Supported by Yates and Albasini, he will have teammates to help chase down attacks. Orica also have the option of letting Yates attack and getting other teams to chase. Matthews can handle these types of climbs, he coped well back in 2014, staying with the GC riders. Two years on, he is a significantly better climber. He is the rider everyone should fear.

Of the GC riders, I like Porte, Thomas and Bardet. All three are attacking riders and always give it their all. Porte was good in the prologue and stage 1, a sign that his form is better than in Oman. The climb isn’t too long, meaning that there will be plenty of teams looking to chase down attacks from the main riders. It will be very hard for Contador, Thomas and Porte to escape the clutches of each other. A puncheur has a much better chance of being given some freedom, as they will not threaten the overall GC, but Orica will not want to lose yellow.

The weather is not going to be easy. We are expecting quite a lot of rain and freezing temperatures. The descents will be tricky and the peloton nervous. Tony Gallopin is rider who loves some bad weather. If the day is horrible, a very small bunch will arrive together for the final climb.

It might only be short, but expect a fascinating tactical battle on the slopes of Brouilly.

Prediction Time

This is a hard one to call. I do like the look of Vuillermoz and Bardet, but I will go for Michael Matthews, but he will need the support of his team. If he is left exposed, the others will force him to cover moves. If Albasini and Yates can support him, he has the ability to take a famous win.

David Hunter

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