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Paris-Nice (March 3-10) is arguably the most prestigious and most telling of the early-season stage races. It’s challenging to target for general classification, as riders have to battle against crosswinds, cold, and even snow at times. There is always a competitive field, and because it’s the beginning of the season, riders sometimes come up short on stamina. Often likened to a mini-Tour de France, Paris-Nice features every type of terrain and road discipline wrapped up into a week of intense racing — after which the winner and the runner-up are often separated by only a handful of seconds.
This year, in the 71st edition of the race, with dominating all-rounders such as reigning Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins (Sky) opting not to defend his Paris-Nice title and teammate Chris Froome racing Tirreno-Adriatico, Paris-Nice looks set for a hotly contested battle for stage victories, UCI points, and overall glory.
Backed by a strong BMC Racing team, American Tejay van Garderen, fifth last year and the best young rider, heads to France with his sights set on winning his first professional stage race.
“My climbing was good in the Tour de San Luis, and I feel it has only improved,” van Garderen said in a team statement this week. “Plus, the type of climbs we will see in Paris-Nice suit my ability.”
With Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) joining Froome for a showdown at Tirreno and Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) skipping Paris-Nice van Garderen is the top finisher from the 2012 Tour on the startlist.
That said, two men with race wins in their palmares — Robert Gesink (Blanco) and Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) — are also targeting the top step of the podium in Nice.
Gesink most recently triumphed at the 2012 Amgen Tour of California, capping his return from a broken femur; Talansky won the five-stage Tour de l’Ain in August. The Dutchman was sixth overall at the Vuelta a España last season, with Talansky less than a minute behind him in seventh.
“Last year, winning l’Ain was big. The difference between winning a race and the other two guys on the podium is massive. And that difference is sometimes mental,” Talansky told VeloNews. “This year, I want to focus on the mindset of winning. That doesn’t mean I am going to win those races, but I do want to go to those races with the mindset that I am going there to win.”
Talansky is aiming for a Tour debut, Gesink for the Giro, and each would like a Paris-Nice title on his rap sheet.
“For Paris-Nice I am surrounded by strong guys,” Gesink said in a press release. “Especially our youngsters, [Wilco] Kelderman and [Steven] Kruijswijk helping me on the climbs. Working with these guys could set the standard for the rest of the year. I keep good memories of Paris-Nice and will start with confidence.”
Many greats of the sport — Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Sean Kelly, Miguel Indurain, Alberto Contador — keep good memories of the “Race to the Sun.” It’s also the second round of the WorldTour and precious points are up for grabs. Paris-Nice is a perfect test to see whether one’s off-season training has paid off, and where more work needs to be done ahead of the classics and the grand tours.
The weather in early March can surprise the riders — anyone for snow in the morning and sunshine in the afternoon? Last year, one of the most decisive moments of the race came on what looked to be a ho-hum stage 2 to Orléans when, halfway through, wintry crosswinds battered the peloton and split it into several groups, effectively eliminating contenders like Denis Menchov (Katusha) and Janez Brajkovic (Astana), who were caught out.
In the long list of cycling greats who’ve won Paris-Nice, Ireland’s Sean Kelly, “Mr. Paris-Nice,” holds the record for most victories with seven in a row, from 1982 to 1988, followed by Frenchman Jacques Anquetil, who won five editions between 1957 and 1966. France has claimed top honors on 21 occasions and Belgium 14.
Does a good ride down to Nice translate into success later in the season? It’s hard to say as the history is mixed, but if last year’s edition was any indication, the answer is clearly yes. Wiggins’ overall victory at Paris-Nice set him up for a super-successful season in which he became the first rider to also win the Tour de Romandie, Critérium du Dauphiné, and Tour de France, before picking up a gold medal in the time trial at the London Olympics. If nothing else, Paris-Nice helped establish Wiggins early on as the man to beat in 2012. He followed through, but will the 2013 champion follow suit?
Death in Saint-Chamond, and a Legacy
In the 2003 Paris-Nice, Kazakhstan’s Andrei Kivilev crashed heavily on the second stage, suffering a skull fracture. Kivilev was not wearing a helmet, which at the time was not compulsory, and he died the next morning. After Kivilev’s death, and because of other safety concerns voiced by the sport’s governing body, the UCI’s campaign to make helmets mandatory was re-launched, and, after some initial resistance, all riders were wearing them within a year or so.
This year’s Paris-Nice is bookended by two individual races against the clock: a short, fast, technical prologue will put a rider into the leader’s jersey, and a final-stage uphill time trial on the historic Col d’Eze will sort out the general classification. In between, the peloton will tackle six road stages, with stage 5 testing the mettle of the overall contenders as they race to the finish on Lure Mountain. Along the way, rolling profiles will bring the breakaway specialists to the fore, especially if there’s inclement weather or crosswinds.
On paper, this year’s stages look as if they will likely go down as follows (but of course the beauty of bike racing is that riders are constantly delighting us with surprises).
At just under 3km, the prologue is ideally suited to a sprinter adept at waxing the perfect line through the numerous corners and punching it out of the turns. Mostly flat, stages 2 and 3 should see field sprints rule the day, while stage 4, with its up-and-down profile, could likely see a breakaway make it to the line.
Stage 5 features the climb of Lure Mountain, which is nearly 14 kilometers long and the highest point ever reached in the race’s history. The day should go to a pure climber and reorder the general classification. (The last time the race went up the Lure, in 2009, Contador attacked and won solo; the next day he bonked and lost the overall lead.)
While stage 6 finishes on Nice’s pancake-flat Promenade des Anglais, several categorized climbs — including the Cat. 1 Côte de Cabris and the Col du Ferrier — make it a perfect stage for attacking riders. Finally, stage 7 finishes things up with the 9.6km uphill time trial; those who still have GC aspirations will fight for seconds and podium places.
71st Paris-Nice, March 3-10
Prologue: Sunday, March 3, Houilles — Houilles (2.9km)
Stage 1: Monday, March 4, Saint-Germain-en-Laye — Nemours (195km)
Stage 2: Tuesday, March 5, Vimory — Cérilly (200.5km)
Stage 3: Wednesday, March 6, Chatel-Guyon — Brioude (171km)
Stage 4: Thursday, March 7, Brioude — Saint-Vallier (199.5km)
Stage 5: Friday, March 8, Châteauneuf-du-Pape — Montagne de Lure (176km)
Stage 6: Saturday, March 9, Manosque — Nice (220km)
Stage 7: Sunday, March 10, Nice — Col d’Eze (9.6km)
Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) ★★★★ Last year’s Paris-Nice proved a difficult race for the 24-year-old GC man, who’s widely considered America’s best stage racer. He finished fifth overall and was the best young rider, yet he really wanted the big win, or at least a podium, here. Van Garderen, however, lost valuable seconds in the prologue and nearly half-a-minute to his rivals on the queen stage to Mende, which featured a tough uphill finish. Then he failed to deliver in the time trial on Col d’Eze, finishing 1:15 down on Wiggins. Still, van Garderen went on to have a superb Tour de France, where again he was fifth overall and the best young rider.
Van Garderen has clearly grown tired of consolation prizes such as the white jersey, and he’s been frustrated with narrow misses in weeklong races like the Amgen Tour of California and the USA Pro Challenge. To erase the bad memories of last year’s race, he’ll have to limit his losses in a prologue that doesn’t suit him, then hold his own on Lure Mountain with the pure climbers; finally, he’ll need to improve in the Col d’Eze TT — a stage that should suit him on paper, though he has struggled in uphill time trials at times. The American’s time has come to win a major stage race, and in the absence of Wiggins, Froome, and Contador, this year’s Paris-Nice is already starting to look like his race to lose.
Robert Gesink (Blanco) ★★★★ The Dutch climber has raced Paris-Nice just once, in 2008, when he finished fourth overall after losing the leader’s jersey on a chaotic descent during the queen stage. But he came up big at last year’s Tour of California, riding an impressive time trial and dropping his rivals on Mount Baldy to win the overall. In 2011 he nearly won Tirreno-Adriatico, a race that’s similar to Paris-Nice and also run in March. Last week’s Vuelta a Murcia saw Gesink finish fourth after working for teammate Bauke Mollema on a tough uphill finish, so his form is good. Plus, a strong Blanco lineup will surround him, with talented riders like Wilco Kelderman, Steven Kruijswijk, and Mark Renshaw looking after their captain. The biggest question surrounding Gesink is where he is in his preparation as he targets the Giro d’Italia, in May, for the first time in his career.
Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) ★★★★ If Paris-Nice is van Garderen’s to lose, it is “The Pit Bull’s” to tear away from him. Talansky’s star doesn’t shine as brightly as his heralded countryman, but the 24-year-old has something van Garderen doesn’t: a professional stage-race win. Talansky won the five-stage Tour de l’Ain in August 2012 and went on to finish seventh overall in a brutal Vuelta a España. After thieves made off with Garmin’s race bikes on the eve of the Tour Méditerranéen time trial earlier this year — a stage in which Talansky could very well have taken victory and the overall lead — he will be that much hungrier at Col d’Eze. Talansky is aiming for his Tour debut this season and is keyed up for a major race win before he gets there.
The key match-up of the race may be a three-way affair between van Garderen, Gesink, and Talansky. With two Americans and the reigning Amgen Tour champ at the sharp end of racing, Paris-Nice should provide compelling theatre for U.S. fans.
Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) ★★★ The Dutchman surprised the favorites in last year’s Paris-Nice on the queen stage to Mende, attacking on the finishing climb of the Côte de la Croix-Neuve–Montée Laurent Jalabert and putting riders like Wiggins under pressure. (Had Westra not freewheeled to the finish line in Mende, he could have possibly won Paris-Nice as he ended up losing to Wiggins by eight seconds.) Westra showed he was worthy of a podium finish by riding strongly to second place in the final-stage time trial on the Col d’Eze, just two second off Wiggins’ winning pace. This year Westra has already shown great form, finishing third on the mountain stage of the Volta ao Algarve (Tour of the Algarve) before taking fourth in the time trial, for third overall. Expect Westra to do his best to go a step higher on the podium and take his biggest victory.
Rui Costa (Movistar): ★★★ The Portuguese all-rounder won last year’s Tour de Suisse and started the season with second in the queen stage at the Volta ao Algarve last month. With Movistar riding for Alejandro Valverde at the Tour de France, Costa will be looking to take advantage of the chances when he gets them and Paris-Nicew is a big one.
Richie Porte (Sky) ★★ Winner of the 2012 Volta ao Algarve, Porte is best known as the Australian engine who rides tirelessly for team leaders Wiggins and Froome, and he has shown at races such as the Tour de France that he’s one of the strongest domestiques in the peloton. But in this year’s Paris-Nice, he’ll be leading the squad for the general classification. The best young rider of the 2010 Giro d’Italia will find Paris-Nice to be a great challenge, but he brings a solid team that has a mix of experience and hungry young riders. With Wiggins out and Froome racing in Italy, expect Porte, 28, to take full advantage of this rare opportunity to lead Sky to overall victory in a major stage race. His strong climbing and time trialing should see him make a run for a podium finish.
Others to watch
Andreas Klöden (RadioShack) ★★
Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) ★
Thomas Löfkvist (IAM Cycling) ★
Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) ★
Ted King (Cannondale)
Danny Pate (Sky)
Ian Boswell (Sky)
Mathew Busche (RadioShack)
Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp)
Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp)
Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing)
Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing>
A number of top stage racers have opted to race Tirreno-Adriatico (March 6-12). They include Chris Froome (Sky), Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard), Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), and Tony Martin (Omega Pharma–Quick-Step).
VeloNews European correspondent Andrew Hood contributed to this report.
How to follow in North America
VeloNews’ European correspondent Andrew Hood will be on the ground in France, along with photographer Graham Watson. Watch for daily coverage from the WorldTour’s second race of the season, including daily race reports, in-depth analysis, and galleries. For all things Paris-Nice, visit our race page. Follow Hood on Twitter @eurohoody, and VeloNews @VeloNews.
U.S./Canada TV listings:
NBC Sports Network will air the 2013 Paris-Nice daily, on tape daily. Check your local listings for coverage.
√ Confirmed roster
DS: KNAVEN Servais, PORTAL Nicolas
LOPEZ GARCIA David
TIERNAN LOCKE Jonathan
EDMONDSON Joshua *
RASCH Gabriel *
DS: DE CNODDER Bob, VAN DER SCHUEREN Hilaire
DE GENDT Thomas
LINDEMAN Bert Jan
KREDER Wesley *
WAUTERS Willem *
DS: ARRIETA Jose Luis
COSTA Rui Alberto
GUTIERREZ José Ivan
HERRADA LOPEZ Jesus
PLAZA MOLINA Ruben
QUINTANA ROJAS Nairo Alexander
ROJAS Jose Joaquin
DS: BOVEN Jan, ELIJZEN Michiel
DS: DIAZ GOMEZ Alexander, GONZALEZ GALDEANO Alvaro
IZAGIRRE INSAUSTI Ion
IZAGUIRRE INSAUSTI Gorka
NIEVE ITURRALDE Mikel
PEREZ MORENO Ruben
ABERASTURI Jon *
MESTRE Ricardo *
OROZ Juan José *
DS: AZEVEDO José, GALLOPIN Alain
DS: PIOVANI Maurizio
PALINI Andrea Francesco
CIMOLAI Davide *
WACKERMANN Luca *
DS: AERTS Mario, WAUTERS Marc
BAK Lars Ytting
DE CLERCQ Bart
DE GREEF Francis
DS: LAPAGE Laurenzo, MARIE Lionel
BEWLEY Sam *
SULZBERGER Wesley *
DS: BRICAUD Thierry, PINEAU Franck
GESLIN Anthony *
PINEAU Cedric *
BMC Racing √
DS: LEDANOIS Yvon, LELANGUE John
VAN GARDEREN Tejay
Ag2r La Mondiale
DS: JURDIE Julien, LAVENU Vincent
BERARD Julien *
CHEREL Mikael *
DS: FROST Dan, MICHAELSEN Lars
CANTWELL Jonathan *
JORGENSEN Jonas Aaen *
DS: GUILLE Nicolas, HEULOT Stéphane
EL FARES Julien
ENGOULVENT Jimmy *
MARTIAS Rony *
DS: VAN BONDT Geert, VAN LANCKER Eric
DS: FOFONOV Dmitriy, ZANINI Stefano
DS: FLICKINGER Andy, MOTTIER Ismaël
CHARTEAU Anthony *
KERN Christophe *
Omega Pharma-Quick Step √
DS: PEETERS Wilfried, SCHAFFRATH Jan
DE WEERT Kevin
DS: KONYSHEV Dmitry, SCHMIDT Torsten
FLORENCIO CABRE Xavier
LOSADA ALGUACIL Alberto
DS: DELOEUIL Alain, ROUS Didier
GARCIA ECHEGUIBEL Egoitz
LE MEVEL Christophe
MATE MARDONES Luis Angel
DS: MARIUZZO Dario, ZANATTA Stefano
DA DALTO Mauro
DE MARCHI Alessandro
HAEDO Lucas Sebastian
KING Edward (Ted)
LONGO BORGHINI Paolo
DE BACKER Bert
ARNDT Nikias *
GRETSCH Patrick *
DS: CARLSTRÖM Kjell, SEIGNEUR Eddy
HOLLENSTEIN Reto *
WYSS Marcel *