Paris-Nice is normally known as the first big clash between the main climbing names in Europe but a radically changed course for this year’s edition has put the cat amongst the pigeons and brings a classic feel to the race from start to finish, ironically with the first stage coming on the second classic Sunday of the spring season.
Designed by the organisers to encourage attacking, it promises to provide a vastly changed spectacle from the ‘train’ dominated stage races split into stages for the fastmen and the big climbers, with a climbing time trial often being the deciding factor.
Stages 1,2 and 3 should all end with bunch sprints – albeit with some tricky finishes and some dizzyingly tight corners – but there is a reputable bonanza of opportunities from the middle of the race onwards and any type of rider should feel confident of fancying their chances of making a mark this week. There are no summit finishes on any of the eight stages, but there is plenty of combing and crucially – descending in the feature stages. Stage 4’s Mount Burtilly has sections of 15% and above with the top coming out just 14 km’s from the finish (which is punchy and uphill), and the day after the Cote De Saint Catherine comes just 13 km from another uphill drag finish, once again with a rolling descent.
On Friday there will be just over 20km’s from the Col de Bourigaille before finishing on the “Mur” in Fayence, a narrow, steep ramp which does give opportunities to gain time to add to the crucial bonus seconds of 10, 6, and 4 for the first three over the line. On the final weekend, there’s plenty of attacking opportunities with the 5 categorised climbs including 2 category 1 Col’s before halfway very much resembling Stage 9 of the Tour De France, widely acknowledged as one of the best stages of the entire race with Chris Froome’s dominance challenged more than at any time through the entire race.
To finish it all off, we have a shot, hilly stage that has nothing but category 2 and one climbs with the Col D’Eze topping out at 15 km from the finish that follows a steep descent beforehand.
It’s a race that gives everyone a chances and is clearly going to reward, fast, attacking climbers with excellent descending skills – so why look away from the obvious in Vincenzo Nibali?
Having had three stage races so far, he should be more ready to strike on his first European start the Italian looks to have the best all round skillset for the race. The lack of a summit finish Is a negative for him but the finishes through the week are hardly easy and there look to be plenty of launching pads for either short or long range attacks. An excellent sprinter for a multiple grand tour winner, he should be looking to make the most of the steep sections on Stages 6 and 8 in particular while the descents coming into close contact with the lack of flat finishes on said stages likely to be helpful towards his cause. If at something like his best, it is hard not to see him in the shakeup at the end of the week and 7’s is too big for a rider of his class.
Carlos Betancur should enjoy the rolling terrain and was an impressive winner at Haut Var last weekend. There’s nothing to put anyone off his chances and in a race that seems chock a block with each/way value, although the chances of world championship winner Rui Costa are just about preferred. A stellar winner in Italy, he took two stages of the Tour De France, his victory on Stage 19 came after a stage with two category one climbs and two hors categorie ascents with the Col De La Crox Fry coming before the finish and his empathic win in the Tour De Suisse before that. With a route tailor made for him, reducing the gap between climber and puncheur, the 11/2 on him is a big price for the favourite given that his recent exploits in Portugal when third in the Volata Algarve suggest that he’s in fine shape and the 11/2 on him with some bookmakers seems to be generous when he’s as short as 7/2 in some places.
Tejay Van Garderen is as good as any in this field but would have preferred a time trial at the least without a summit finish and I bigger threat for us would be Geraint Thomas. A long time favourite of this page as anyone who reads will know, he made it through the Tour De France injured last year, he now gets a leaders’ chance following Richie Porte’s move to Tirreno-Adriatico to replace Chris Froome and showed impressive form in the Tour Down Under and then Ruta Del Sol setting up Richie Porte for major attacks. At 12/1 he’s of interest, and he should be thereabouts most times during the week and it will be interesting to see just how he does match upto the best uphill riders.
1 pt Rui Costa (11/2 general)
1 pt Vincenzo Nibali (7/1 general)