Preparations for this year’s Grand Tours will be stepped up a notch when a selection of the best stage-race riders in the world head to France for the eight-day Paris-Nice (March 9-16).
The Race to the Sun, as it is also known, is traditionally a major staging post on the cycling calendar and 2014′s instalment promises to be one of the most action-packed and keenly fought editions in years.
Although hilly, there are no summit finishes or time trials, meaning the racing could be both unpredictable and aggressive, with time bonuses at the end of each stage potentially having a big say on who walks away with the winner’s yellow jersey.
Last year’s victor, Richie Porte (Team Sky), is back to defend his title and the Australian will be joined on the start line by Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), who has opted for this race rather than defend his Tirreno-Adriatico title, and world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), whose style the route could suit well.
Here is how the race will pan out…
Stage 1: Sunday, March 9 – Mantes-la-Jolie to Mantes-la-Jolie – 162.5km
The race starts with a rolling day around the town of Mantes-la-Jolie, which is based on the River Seine on the north-western outskirts of Paris. The bulk of the stage will take place over four laps of a 33.5km circuit containing a climb up the category-three Cote de Vert and then a descent back down to the finish. If a breakaway group works together well and gains enough of an early advantage, they could have a slim chance of staying clear. Otherwise, a bunch sprint looks likely.
Stage 2: Monday, March 10 – Rambouillet to Saint-Georges-sur-Baulche – 205km
Another day for the sprinters, although a slight rise to the finish could place the advantage in the hands of fast men who can also kick uphill. Once again, the stage ends with a circuit, this time 25.5km long, so the sprint trains will get one look at the finish line before it comes down to the crunch. A rolling finale could give breakaway riders hope, but they will face a tough task to stay clear.
Stage 3: Tuesday, March 11 – Toucy to Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours – 180km
Unlike the day before, stage three is a nailed-on sprint stage, even finishing the famous Magny-Cours race circuit. There are a few lumps in the road on the route from Toucy, but nothing categorised or testing enough to aid breakaway riders or derail sprint trains.
Stage 4: Wednesday, March 12 – Nevers to Belleville – 201.5km
The general classification battle comes to life on day four with a stage that should suit a punchy climber who can attack on the steep final ascent of the Col du Mont Brouilly – which is 3km long, averages 8.4 per cent in gradient and has a ramp of 25 per cent – and then time trial his way to the finish. It’s also feasible that a small group will crest the summit together, which could lead to a reduced-bunch sprint on the slightly uphill run to the line in Belleville. World champion Rui Costa won two stages of last year’s Tour de France that had similar finales and so he could be a decent bet for the win here.
Stage 5: Thursday, March 13 – Creche-sur-Saone to Rive-de-Gier – 153km
Stage five is another day with a late climb, only this time the ascent is long and gentle, rather than short and sharp. The Core de Sainte-Catherine climb is 12.5km long but averages only 2.8 per cent, which means sprinters with strong enough legs could get themselves over the top still at the head of the race and then contest a potential bunch finish. The breakaway could also like the look of this stage, while any rider feeling strong on the day could fancy a late, lone escape.
Stage 6: Friday, March 14 – Saint-Saturnin Les-Avignon to Fayence – 221.5km
The race now reaches the south coast of France and, for the third day in a row, the stage ends with a late climb followed by a downhill dash to the finish. This stage has a twist, though, in the form of a short, steep ramp up the line. The day will catch light on the Col de Bourigaille, which is 8.2km long, averages 5.9 per cent and will almost certainly invite attacks. A small group is likely to form on the upper slopes and if they can then stay clear on the downhill dash back into Fayence, it will come down to whoever has the freshest legs on the climb to the line.
Stage 7: Saturday, March 15 – Mougins to Biot – 195.5km
A challenging penultimate day is packed with no fewer than five categorised climbs in the middle part of the stage, and then ends with an undulating circuit around Biot Sophia Antipolis. A breakaway will head out early and look to build up enough of a lead on the climbs to put them in good stead to hang on to the finish. The general classification contenders will probably stay together over the climbs, but things could spice up once they reach the lumpy finishing circuit. Attacks will be rife, but it is a short, sharp drag up to the finish line that is likely to separate the strong from the weak.
Stage 8: Sunday, March 16 – Nice to Nice – 128km
The race ends with a short but hilly stage containing five categorised climbs, with the last being the famous Col d’Eze, just outside of Nice. At just 128km, the day will be frantic right from the starting gun, particularly if the gaps between the overall leaders are still narrow. Attacks on the Col d’Eze will be inevitable, and from there, anyone who has opened up a gap will have to hold off the chasers on a 15km downhill run to the finish. The time bonuses on offer at the line could be pivotal, so victory here will be keenly fought for.
- 2013: Richie Porte (Aus)
- 2012: Sir Bradley Wiggins (GB)
- 2011: Tony Martin (Ger)
- 2010: Alberto Contador (Spa)
- 2009: Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa)
Team Sky’s Richie Porte won last year’s race and is back to defend his title, but will face stern competition from Tour de France hopeful Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and world champion Rui Costa(Lampre-Merida).
The unpredictability of the route could take the advantage away from the climbers, though, so don’t be surprised to see riders likeSimon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge), Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling), Philippe Gilbert (BMC) or Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step) putting their names in the mix.
Steve Cummings (BMC), Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge).
It is difficult to pick one stage out in particular, as stages four, five six and eight all bear similarities. However, simply because it is the final stage and so much could still be left to play for, stage eight will be vital.
- Yellow: General classification.
- Green: Points classification
- Polka dots: King of the mountains.
- White: Best young rider.
Time bonuses and points
- 10, 6 and 4 bonus seconds will be awarded to the first three finishers on each stage.
- 3, 2 and 1 second will be awarded to the first three riders over the line at intermediate sprints.
- 15, 12, 9, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 point will be awarded to the first ten riders over the finish line.
- 3, 2 and 1 point will be awarded to the first three riders over the line at intermediate sprints.
Teams and riders
Ag2r-La Mondiale: Romain Bardet (Fra), Carlos Betancur (Col), Maxime Bouet (Fra), Mikael Cherel (Fra), Samuel Dumoulin (Fra), Sebastien Minard (Fra), Sebastien Turgot (Fra), Alexis Vuillermoz (Fra).
Astana: To follow…
Belkin: Jetse Bol (Ned), Lars Petter Nordhaug (Nor), Lars Boom (Ned), Jonathan Hivert (Fra), Moreno Hofland (Ned), Wilco Kelderman (Ned), Jos van Emden (Ned), Maarten Wynants (Bel).
Vincenzo Nibali has chosen to ride Paris-Nice over Tirreno-Adriatico
BMC: To follow…
Cannondale: George Bennett (NZ), Damiano Caruso (Ita), Alessandro de Marchi (Ita), Michel Koch (Ger), Marco Marcato (Ita), Fabio Sabatini (Ita), Cristiano Salerno (Ita), Davide Villella (Ita).
Europcar: Giovanni Bernardeau (Fra), Bryan Coquard (Fra), Jerome Cousin (Fra), Jimmy Engoulvent (Fra), Cyril Gautier (Fra), Bryan Nauleau (Fra), Perrig Quemeneur (Fra), Thomas Voeckler (Fra).
FDJ: Nacer Bouhanni (Fra), Sebastien Chavanel (Fra), Anthony Geslin (Fra), Arnold Jeannesson (Fra), Cedric Pineau (Fra), Geoffrey Soupe (Fra), Benoit Vaugrenard (Fra), Arthur Vichot (Fra).
Garmin-Sharp: To follow…
Giant-Shimano: Bert de Backer (Bel), Koen de Kort (Ned), John Degenkolb (Ger), Dries Devenyns (Bel), Thierry Hupond (Fra), Reinhardt Janse van Rensburg (RSA), Ramon Sinkledam (Ned), Albert Timmer (Ned).
Katusha: Sergei Chernetckii (Rus), Vladimir Isaychev (Rus), Alexander Kristoff (Nor), Egor Silin (Rus), Simon Spilak (Slo), Alexey Tsatevich (Rus), Yuri Trofimov (Rus), Aliaksandr Kuchynski (Blr).
This year’s route could suit Rui Costa
Lampre-Merida: To follow…
Lotto-Belisol: To follow…
Movistar: Imanol Erviti (Spa), Ivan Gutierrez (Spa), Gorka Izagirre (Spa), Ion Izagirre (Spa), Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spa), John Gadret (Fra), Jesus Herrada (Spa), Sylwester Szmyd (Pol).
Omega Pharma – Quick-Step: Jan Bakelants (Bel), Tom Boonen (Bel), Nikolas Maes (Bel), Gianni Meersman (Bel), Gert Steegmans (Bel), Zdenek Stybar (Cze), Niki Terpstra (Ned), Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel).
Orica-GreenEdge: Michael Albasini (Swi), Mitchell Docker (Aus), Simon Gerrans (Aus), Matthew Goss (Aus), Mathew Hayman (Aus), Jens Keukeleire (Aus), Michael Matthews (Aus), Simon Yates (GB).
Simon Gerrans could be a threat in the general classification
Team Sky: Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor), Vasil Kiryienka (Blr), Christian Knees (Ger), David Lopez (Spa), Richie Porte (Aus), Gabriel Rasch (Nor), Xabier Zandio (Spa), Geraint Thomas (GB).
Tinkoff-Saxo: To follow…
Trek: Matthew Busche (USA), Laurent Didier (Lux), Fabio Felline (Ita), Danilo Hondo (Ger), Bob Jungels (Lux), Gregory Rast (Swi), Andy Schleck (Lux), Frank Schleck (Lux).
Bretagne Seche-Environnement: Anthony Delaplace (Fra), Brixe Feillu (Fra), Romain Feillu (Fra), Christophe Laborie (Fra), Florian Guillou (Fra), Armindo Fonseca (Fra), Eduardo Sepulveda (Arg), Florian Vachon (Fra).
Cofidis: Jerome Coppel (Fra), Julien Fouchard (Fra), Egoitz Garcia (Spa), Cyril Lemoine (Fra), Luis Angel Mate (Spa), Adrien Petit (Fra), Julien Simon (Fra), Romain Zingle (Bel).
IAM Cycling: Sylvain Chavanel (Fra), Stefan Denifl (Aut), Mathias Frank (Swi), Sebastien Hinault (Fra), Kevyn Ista (Bel), Jerome Pineau (Fra), Sebastien Reichenbach (Swi), Aleksejs Saramotins (Aut).