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NICE, France (VN) — Paris-Nice has delivered four of the past five winners at Milano-Sanremo. Will that trend continue this year?
Just an hour down the péage from Nice is the Milano-Sanremo finish line, and riders coming out of Paris-Nice last weekend were looking sharp. Two names stood out: Orica – GreenEdge’s Michael Matthews and Cofidis’s Nacer Bouhanni.
Matthews and Bouhanni went elbow-to-elbow in the Paris-Nice sprints, and many expect them to be protagonists in the first major classic of 2016. Their form coming out of the Race to the Sun was impressive.
“My performance this week at Paris-Nice gives me a lot of confidence for Sanremo,” said Matthews, who won two stages and held the leader’s jersey until the climbing stages. “It’s one of my top goals for the season, and I expect to come out of Paris-Nice in very good form.”
Behind Matthews, the always combative Bouhanni also impressed. The French sprinter was relegated in stage 2, but fought through a hard stage over Mont Ventoux to win outright. In last year’s Sanremo, Matthews was third, and Bouhanni sixth in his Sanremo debut.
“Last year was a good experience in my first try with Sanremo. I was in good condition and I finished sixth, so of course now the goal is to be better,” Bouhanni said. “The team is supporting me, and we will ride to try to.”
For a generation, Tirreno-Adriatico was the favored preparation race for the season’s first monument, but four of the past five winners raced Paris-Nice instead of Tirreno. Of the past five editions, only Gerard Ciolek in 2013 raced Tirreno. Matt Goss (2011), Simon Gerrans (2012), Alexander Kristoff (2014), and John Degenkolb (2015) all raced Paris-Nice. Before that, the only winner to come out of Paris-Nice was André Tchmil in 1999.
Several riders at Tirreno-Adriatico are also flying, including Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), former winner Fabian Cancellara (Trek–Segafredo), and world champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff). It will be interesting to see which set of riders will come out on top in the 291km Sanremo.
Riders who prefer Paris-Nice say they like the longer gap between the Race to the Sun and Sanremo, giving them a few extra days to recover or even to top up the form.
That’s the case with 2014 champion Kristoff, who admitted he wasn’t at his sharpest at Paris-Nice, but he was knocking at the door with two fourth-places and second behind Bouhanni in stage 5 to Salon-en-Provence.
“I need a little bit better form than I do now to hope to win at Sanremo,” Kristoff said. “I need to train a little more.”
A few top names won’t be racing Sanremo after setbacks in Paris-Nice. Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) got sick, and confirmed Tuesday he won’t be racing Sanremo or Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders). Marcel Kittel (Etixx – Quick-Step) struggled, and confirmed he will stick to his plan to only race Scheldeprijs among the spring classics calendar. André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) abandoned Paris-Nice with pain from broken ribs at the Volta ao Algarve in February, and will be under a 10-day rest period.
Tom Boonen (Etixx – Quick-Step), a two-time podium man, told Belgian journalists that every time he’s ridden well at Sanremo, he’s struggled at the northern classics, and vice versa. Boonen will start, but if he has to choose, he’ll take top form on the cobbles in early April.
Other Paris-Nice riders who were coming up in form include Ben Swift (Sky), third in 2014’s Milano-Sanremo, with second in stage 1, and Matti Breschel (Cannondale).
Matthews said he hopes to pick up on the tradition of Australian winners, Matt Goss and Simon Gerrans.
“Sanremo is really big in Australia,” Matthews said. “When I saw those guys win, I wanted to win it myself. I rode it my first time, and I’ve loved it ever since. For me, it’s bigger than Flanders or Roubaix. In the future, I’d like to try to win Flanders, but first, I’d like to try to check off the box at Sanremo. It’s a beautiful race, and hopefully after Paris-Nice, I can do a really good result.”
Both of his compatriots raced Paris-Nice before winning Sanremo, so Matthews hopes history repeats itself.