The 74th edition of Paris-Nice gets underway Saturday, which means that WorldTour racing has arrived in Europe. The startlist may have taken a slight hit in the last few years, but the race still draws plenty of talent—the sprinting field is particularly strong this year, and several top GC names are also in attendance to battle for the overall title in the “Race to the Sun.”
Paris-Nice runs for eight days, starting with a short, flat prologue in the Paris suburbs. The organizers have mixed things up with the inclusion of a few dirt road sections in the ensuing Stage 1. That could make for an interesting day of racing.
Stage 2 looks to be one for the sprinters, with Stage 3 injecting the first serious climbs into the race. A Cat. 2 finale is likely to break things up a bit on the overall leaderboard.
The sprinters will have another chance on Stage 4 before an intriguing Stage 5 that includes a partial trip up Mont Ventoux—though the visit to the iconic climb comes earlier on in the stage. The three Cat. 2 climbs that follow Ventoux could break things up further, but a flat run-in to the finish will likely keep the stage from being too decisive.
The GC is likely to be decided on Stage 6, which includes seven categorized climbs, all of them Cat. 2s or harder, with a Cat. 1 climb to the finish line.
If that hasn’t settled things, the race concludes with a lumpy stage 7, whose up-and-down profile involves six more categorized climbs, the last of which is Paris-Nice favorite Col d’Éze.
In general, it’s a route with plenty of challenges, but one that lacks either a long time trial or any particularly massive or viciously steep finishing climbs. Bonus seconds could play an important role in deciding the overall winner.
The General Classification Contenders
Richie Porte won the race last year (and in 2013) and he will look defend the title this year, riding for new team BMC. The route, however, is less Porte’s style, without a tough time trial to give him the advantage over his rivals. Furthermore, Porte might not be terribly focused on defending his Paris-Nice crown with later-season objectives on his mind—Porte was incredible in the one-week races last year, and yet all the buzz around his season focused on his inability to pull of a Grand Tour win. The Tour is likely occupying all of his focus right now.
Alberto Contador is another two-time winner of the race in attendance. He too might have preferred some changes to the route, but he’s dangerous on practically any terrain and will have plenty of opportunities to put in a characteristic Contador attack if he’s feeling up for it in March.
Romain Bardet looked strong last month in Oman, and should be on-point in Paris-Nice. He has a nice uphill kick, which should help him in the bonus seconds game, and riding on French rides his motivation should be high.
Sky’s Geraint Thomas will hope to follow up a strong 2015 performance wither another this year, and the profile should favor his riding style. Teammate Sergio Henao is another strong bet.
Rui Costa has come close here in the past and should love this year’s route. He thrives on profiles that present opportunities for escape attempts, and Paris-Nice 2016 has plenty of those. He also looks to be in good shape right about now. Louis Meintjes gives Lampre-Merida another good option.
Underrated on the short, steep stuff, Tom Dumoulin should do well on this parcours if he is motivated to fight for a result.
The same goes for Wilco Kelderman and Luis León Sánchez.
Lotto-Soudal’s Tony Gallopin and Tim Wellens, Simon Yates, Rafal Majka, Ion Izagirre, Alexis Vuilermoz, Cannondale’s duo of Andrew Talansky and Pierre Rolland, and the Katusha trio of Ilnur Zakarin, Rein Taaramäe, and Simon Spilak are others who could get involved in the GC battle.
A bevy of strong sprinters should provide action on the flatter early stages. Marcel Kittel, off to a strong start this season, will be hard to beat now that he appears to be back up to speed after a down year in 2015. Alexander Kristoff, also very strong right now, will hope to best Kittel in the bunch kicks, as will André Greipel, 33 but still showing plenty of ability in the sprints.
Michael Matthews, Wouter Wippert, Arnaud Démare, Nacer Bouhanni, Juan José Lobato, and Ben Swift are others to watch in the sprint finishes.
VeloHuman Top 10 Overall Favorites
GC Winner: Romain Bardet
Podium: Alberto Contador, Rui Costa
Other Top Contenders: Richie Porte, Geraint Thomas, Tony Gallopin, Simon Yates, Tom Dumoulin, Pierre Rolland
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