By David Hunter
The organisers have decided to make the route an attractive one for sprinters. They have been rewarded with many top quick men.
The opening stage is a relatively flat start to the race. It does have a little kick at the very end though, we have 1km at 5%, leading into the flame rouge. A descent follows before the sprint for the line. Some sprinters will lose positions on the climb and won’t be sprinting for glory.
Big sprint day!
The third stage has a few bumps along the way, especially the cat 2 climb with 25km to go. 2.1km at 6.7% is certainly enough to drop some sprinters, but some will make the finish. A reduced peloton will make the closing kilometres hard to control.
The fourth stage starts the GC battle. We have a 14.5km ITT, which finishes with Mont Brouilly. The climb is 3km at 7.7%, which is a brilliant way of finishing a TT!
Yet another opportunity for the sprinters. The cat 2 climb is a long way from home, so the sprinters will be confident of fighting for another win.
This is a great stage, especially with 8.9km at 5.6% to begin with. Such a tough start will delight the breakaway riders. After a couple of cat 1 climbs, the race ends with a wall. The 1.3km at 9.8% will test the legs of the climbers and any of the puncheurs that have made it over the final cat 1 climb.
The big GC day. Those that can TT well, start this stage with an advantage. It should encourage the mountain goats to attack early, making it a great stage to watch.
This stage was brilliant last year. The GC battle is not over until the very end!
Ion Izagirre – was in fine form during the Ruta del Sol, but a crash during the TT ended his race. The route of this race is perfect for him, with just one mountain top finish and an ITT. The Spaniard is a top rider and seems to be already enjoying his time with Bahrain. He won’t have a huge amount of support in the mountains, but I doubt that will concern him. A big TT performance and he’ll have a good chance of winning the race.
Alberto Contador – it was fun to watch him shadow Quintana in Abu Dhabi! After a great performance in Ruta del Sol, he approaches his first target race of the season. The climb in the TT is great news for him, he has a good record in demanding races against the clock. The Spaniard will be supported well in the mountains, arriving with Zubeldia and Pantano. I can’t wait to see how he links up with the Colombian, an exciting partnership in the making.
Romain Bardet – has not had the impact he would have hoped for, although Oman and Abu Dhabi were not big targets for him. Now back on home soil, he will hope for a good performance. The TT and only one mountain finish makes it very hard for him to win the overall. Simply put, he will lose too much time against the clock to seriously challenge for the title. It certainly is an area he needs to improve.
Steven Kruijswijk – a contender for sensation of 2016! After some alterations to his training schedule, it is hoped that he’ll be able to peak for other races this season. In the past he’s only been able to reach his top level later in the season. Given his improvement on the TT bike, the Dutchman will be confident of a big result in this race. The long steady climbs are also very good for him, much more to his style.
Sergio Henao – the new Colombian champion arrives here with some good form. He can post a respectable TT time, but I would imagine he’ll lose too much time against the clock. This will stop him from challenging for the overall win, but stage wins are within his grasp. The steep finish on stage 6 looks great for him, especially as he wants to go well in the Ardennes. Has an outside chance of making the podium.
Richie Porte – what an amazing start to 2017 he had. Porte’s performance in the TDU was outstanding, he was miles better than anyone else. After a rest, we will have to see if he’s remained at that level, but as this race will be a target for him, I would expect to see him at his very best. The route is also great for him, as he can perform well on his TT bike. A definite contender for the title.
Ilnur Zakarin – the Russian was very consistent in 2016, as he climbed into the elite category of rider. His 2nd place in Abu Dhabi was a great sign of current form, although, he will have less freedom in this race. Also a good TT rider, he’ll be expecting a top 5 finish overall. A dark horse for the title.
Simon Yates -he ended 2016 in fine form, taking a stage and finishing 6th in the Vuelta. His performances last year were overshadowed by the achievements of his brother, but don’t forget that Simon is also an incredible athlete. He still needs to develop his TT ability, that will stop him from challenging for this title, but stages are a possibility.
Julian Alaphilippe – we are still to see exactly what type of rider the young Frenchman will develop into. Week long stage races seem a good fit just now and he performed well in Abu Dhabi. He’s not yet ready to cope with extreme stages in Grand Tours, but the mountain stages in this race should be accessible for him. He is also good against the clock and capable of picking up bonus seconds. A strong contender for the top 3.
Here is my video preview with Michael Valgren https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Im_in2Ms-Kc
Alberto Contador to take his third Paris-Nice title, 10 years after his first one. I think he’ll perform very well in the TT and defend his lead in the mountains.
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