Cycling Season Heating Up
The Tours of Qatar and Oman, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (which showed us a seemingly improved Sky Classics Squad) and Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne (which serves as yet another piece of evidence that Boonen is Back) kept February interesting. Welcome to March, and the 0 to 60 feeling of going from scattered reasonably popular races to TWO simultaneous WorldTour stage races followed by a Monument classic. It’s pretty much nonstop racing from here until October. I know I’m ready for the excitement.
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With only a few truly grueling climbs and no time trials, Paris-Nice projects to be a race open to more than just your typical top-shelf Grand Tour GC riders. With an abundance of downhill finishes, this year’s race to the sun should be see close General Classification, and the fight for bonus seconds will be fierce.
In a late breaking update, reigning champion Richie Porte will not be returning to Paris-Nice. Sky reports that he will replace Chris Froome at Tirreno-Adriatico instead. Geraint Thomas, looking sharp this year, will now step up to take Porte’s place as team leader. His skills make him an asset on the undulating profile. David Lopez, who finished 2013 with some of the best racing of his career, provides another great support rider and potential fill-in.
Vincenzo Nibali leads a powerful Astana squad. He was hot and cold in the Tour of Oman, but he tends to perform when the lights come on, and his descending skills will serve him well here. He has the muscle to back him. Tanel Kangert, Jakob Fuglsang, and Lieuwe Westra (2nd overall and a stage winner in 2012) are all very dangerous.
Nibali is an obvious choices for any stage race, but the nature of this profile offers a distinct advantage to the climbers with fast finishes. World Champ Rui Costa has started off the year in good shape, winning the points jersey at his home Vola ao Algarve on the back of several fine stages that netted him 3rd overall. He has the legs to hang on over the tough climbs, and the kick to fight for precious seconds at the line. Przemyslaw Niemiec will be ample backup.
Speaking of climbers with kick, Carlos Betancur looks to be rounding into form after a Haut Var-matin victory. He’s just the sort of rider to take advantage of this route. Don’t rule out Ag2R teammate, the up-and-coming Romain Bardet, who will share his teammate’s appreciation for the lack of a time trial in this race. Rafal Majka, of Tinkoff-Saxo, is another young climber to watch.
The smaller hills and lack of chrono miles might not seem like his style, but Tejay van Garderen is hot after a Tour of Oman in which his climbing was second only to Chris Froome. 4th here last year, TvG has the chops and the current form to improve on his performance. Belkin’s Wilco Kelderman is similarly more suited to longer climbs and TTs, but he’s also looking good in the early season and clearly in a position of team leadership.
IAM Cycling brings both of its biggest offseason acquisitions into this race. Sylvain Chavanel has had quite a history in this race, winning last year’s points classification, a stage, and 5th overall and adding those achievements to a long list of successes here in the past. This year’s route, without many serious mountaintop finishes and likely to be heavily reliant on bonus seconds, will play out in the French veteran’s favor. He’ll have Mathias Frank as a dangerous second. Simon Gerrans may seem like the choice for OGE, but early reports point to Michael Albasini being the leader. The OPQS lineup at Paris-Nice is awe-inspiring, but they seem to be more focused on stages than GC; Jan Bakelants or maybe Zdenek Stybar look like their best bet for the overall leaderboard. Lotto’s Tony Gallopin may shoot for a rare GC placing given the profile, but it’s unclear what his objectives are. Same for FDJ’s Arthur Vichot. Simon Spilak leads Katusha’s GC charge. Movistar sends the brothers Ion and Gorka Izagirre as well as John Gadret. Trek sends the Schleck brothers, and Frank actually looked pretty good in Oman before a puncture ruined his race. Garmin’s Tom Jelte Slagter is a keen climber and a fast finisher. Other outsiders include Tommy Voeckler, Maxime Monfort, Jerome Coppel, and Arnold Jeannesson, to name a few.
Given the parcours, we can expect to see several sprint finishes in the 2014 Paris-Nice. None of Andre Greipel, Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, or Peter Sagan will be in attendance but the list of recognizable fast finishers making the trip is very long, and one worthy of a rapid-fire roll call, with parentheticals where details are useful. Here goes… Riders capable of taking one or more of these stage victories include headliners like Giant-Shimano’s John Degenkolb (three wins already this season), OGE’s Matt Goss and Michael Matthews, Katusha’s Alexander Kristoff, FDJ’s Nacer Bouhanni, BMC’s Thor Hushovd and Greg van Avermaet, Europcar’s Bryan Coquard (keep an eye on the rising star), Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen (very strong last week), Movistar’s JJ Rojas, Belkin’s Lars Boom (for the tougher stages; he looks great this season) and Moreno Hofland (for the flatter ones; he also looks great this season), Tinkoff-Saxo’s Matti Breschel, Astana’s Francesco Gavazzi, and Garmin’s Tyler Farrar and Steele Von Hoff. OPQS gets their own bit here, as they’ll be coming into Paris-Nice with guns-blazing. Tom Boonen is back with a vengeance, sprinting at a high level and bringing his usual endurance to boot. Meersman and Stybar are both excellent options on the bumpier stages. Terpstra could go for a long one. Nikolas Maes may not have the name recognition of his teammates, but he’s a viable option in the flat finishes.
Other pure sprinter types who can contend: Giant-Shimano’s Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg, Cofidis’s Adrien Petit, and a hot Alexey Tsatevich of Katusha. In addition to the faster overall contenders, watch out for the likes of Tony Gallopin, Simon Gerrans (looking very strong), Samuel Dumoulin, Enrico Gasparotto, and Arthur Vichot, in any number of stages in which their climbing skills might keep them involved with the GC riders.
GC Winner: Rui Costa
GC Podium: Vincenzo Nibali, Carlos Betancur
GC Top 10: Romain Bardet, Wilco Kelderman, Sylvain Chavanel, Tejay van Garderen, Simon Spilak, Geraint Thomas, Rafal Majka
Remember to check back in soon for the VH pre-race take on Tirreno-Adriatico!
-Dane CashShare This Article