In a reprise of last year’s pre-race scenario, Alberto Contador (Astana) is the heavy favourite for Paris-Nice (March 7-14) after winning the Tour of the Algarve.
The big difference is that most of his team-mates have now jumped ship to Team Radioshack. It will be intriguing to see how Astana copes at the season’s first major stage – and indeed, whether Contador even needs a particularly strong team, let alone top form, to beat his rivals.
At Paris-Nice, the biggest threat could come from his compatriots. Luis Leon Sanchez, Contador’s friend and the man who capitalised on his unexpected capitulation to claim the overall title last year, is back again, forming a two-pronged Caisse d’Epargne attack with Alejandro Valverde.
Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) and Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank), who perennially go well here, may also have a say, while Liquigas talent Roman Kreuziger has shown good early-season form.
Meanwhile, Team Sky will be led by Simon Gerrans, who is testing his form before the Ardennes Classics. Despite a virus laying low several team members, management are hoping for top-five showings from the Australian.
Greg Henderson also gives the team an option in the flatter stages at the start of the week.
The race kicks off with an 8-kilometre prologue around Montfort-l’Amaury, which will give Britons David Millar (Garmin-Transitions) and Steve Cummings (Team Sky) an opportunity to shine.
After a problem-riddled start to the season, Millar was cautious about his chances: “I got a bit of a slap in the face at the Algarve [he suffered food poisoning and crashed in the time-trial]. I’m just gonna wing it and hope I’m healthy and good to go in Paris-Nice. I want to be a protagonist; we’ll see what happens.”
The Garmin man expects that the crosswinds and cold weather, which the bunch often encounter on the road to Nice, to have their say again. “You have to take it day by day, even hour by hour. You’ve got to not have any rigid plans.”
Rolling stages in the Massif Central will whittle things down, with the highlight a summit finish on the steep climb to Mende on stage four. The Col de Vence, coming 30 kilometres before an uphill finish in Tourettes-sur-Loup, two days later could also prove pivotal.
The race concludes with the customary stage in the Nice hills, taking in the Col de la Porte, la Turbie and the Col d’Eze.
Paris-Nice 2010: Who’s going to win?
Alberto Contador (Spain) Astana
Any stage race featuring mountains makes Contador a favourite. He’s already proved he’s on form by winning the Tour of the Algarve, and a win at Paris-Nice will be another reason for his Tour de France rivals to get itchy. No full-length time trials means he’ll have to attack when it matters to gain time – stage four to Mende would provide the perfect opportunity.
Frank Schleck (Luxembourg) Saxo Bank
Runner-up last year, it’s time Frank Schleck took a big win to stop all of the limelight falling on brother Andy. With a strong team behind him, he’s going to be hard to stop – particularly as he is one of the few riders able to keep up with Contador in the mountains.
Luis-Leon Sanchez (Spain) Caisse d’Epargne
Last year’s Paris-Nice winner gets an automatic inclusion in the favourites list – his only problem may be sharing leadershiop duties with team-mate Valverde. Could well be the first to wear the leader’s jersey after the opening 8km time trial prologue.
Alejandro Valverde (Spain) Caisse d’Epargne
Having won the Tour of the Med in February, Valverde is another rider to have already tasted victory this season. Always a threat. And the race doesn’t go into Italy.
Sylvain Chavanel (France) Quick Step
Third last year, Chavanel will be bouyed by the home fans looking for a solid performance from one of their top riders – and Chavanel usually goes well at Paris-Nice. Good – but not great – performances in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne at the end of February show that he could provide some surprises.
Levi Leipheimer (USA) RadioShack
Leipheimer may not have been able to quite match Contador’s pace in the Tour of the Algarve, but he was one of the few to come close. Has a strong, if rather mature, team to back him up.
Roman Kreuziger (Czech Republic) Liquigas
An overall win at the Giro di Sardegna last week has marked the young Czech rider out as on flying form already this year.
Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin-Transitions
With Bradley Wiggins’ departure to Team Sky, Garmin’s Grand Tour expectations have again been landed in the lap of Vande Velde. A good performance here will set him on the right track for the Tour de France.
Christophe Le Mevel (France) Francaise des Jeux
Tenth last year, the FdJ leader will have to punch hard to reach the top five but an overall win at the Tour de Haut Var last month will have boosted his confidence.
Simon Gerrans (Australia) Team Sky
Gerrans is Sky’s leader for Paris-Nice, but the team has modest aims for the race. A stage victory from the man who has won stages of all three Grand Tours would be a satisfying outcome.
Jens Voigt (Germany) Saxo Bank
Everyone’s favourite hardman will be working for Schleck, but you can expect to see him take an active role in the race – last year he finished less than a minute down on his team leader and was sixth overall.
Paris-Nice 2010: The stages
||Sunday 7 March||Montfort-l’Amaury||Montfort-l’Amaury||8km|
||Monday 8 March||Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines||Contres||201.5km|
||Tuesday 9 March||Contres||Limoges||201km|
||Wednesday 10 March||Saint-Junien||Aurillac||208km|
||Thursday 11 March||Maurs||Mende||173.5km|
||Friday 12 March||Pernes-les-Fontaines||Aix-en-Provence||157km|
||Saturday 13 March||Peynie||Tourrettes-sur-Loup||220km|
||Sunday 14 March||Nice||Nice||119km|
Paris-Nice 2010: Teams and leaders
Ag2r-La Mondiale (France) – Tadej Valjavec
Astana (Kazakhstan) – Alberto Contador
BBox-Bouygues Telecom (France) – Thomas Voeckler
Caisse d’Epargne (Spain) – Luis-Leon Sanchez
Cervelo Test Team (Switzerland)- Heinrich Haussler
Cofidis (France) – Remi Pauriol
Euskaltel-Euskadi (Spain) – Samuel Sanchez
Francaise des Jeux (France) – Christophe Le Mevel
Garmin-Transitions (USA) – Christian Vande Velde
HTC-Columbia (USA) – Tony Martin
Katusha (Russia) – Serguei Ivanov
Lampre-Farnese Vini (Italy) – Damiano Cunego
Liquigas-Doimo (Italy) – Roman Kreuziger
Omega Pharma-Lotto (Belgium) – Philippe Gilbert
Quick Step (Belgium) – Sylvain Chavanel
Rabobank (Netherlands) – Bram Tankink
RadioShack (USA) – Levi Leipheimer
Saur-Sojasun (France) – Jimmy Casper
Saxo Bank (Denmark) – Frank Schleck
Skil-Shimano (Netherlands) – Yann Huguet
Team Sky (Great Britain) – Simon Gerrans
Vacansoleil (Netherlands) – Brice Feillu
Paris-Nice 2010: TV coverage
Sun 7 March 14.50-16.30 Prologue live, British Eurosport
Mon 8 March 14.15-16.15 Stage 1 live, British Eurosport
Tues 9 March 14.15-16.15 Stage 2 live, British Eurosport
Weds 10 March 14.15-16.15 Stage 3 live, British Eurosport
Thurs 11 March 13.45-15.30 Stage 4 live, British Eurosport
Fri 12 March 15.00-16.15 Stage 5 live, British Eurosport
Sat 13 March 13.15-15.45 Stage 6 live, British Eurosport
Sun 14 March 12.45-14.00 Stage 7 live, British Eurosport
Paris-Nice 2010: British riders
Jeremy Hunt (Cervelo)
Roger Hammond (Cervelo)
Daniel Lloyd (Cervelo)
David Millar (Garmin-Transitions)
Peter Kennaugh (Team Sky)
Russell Downing (Team Sky)
Geraint Thomas (Team Sky)
Steve Cummings (Team Sky)
Paris-Nice: 2009 top ten
1. Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne in 30-53-51
2. Frank Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 1-00
3. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step at 1-09
4. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana at 1-24
5. Antonio Colom (Spa) Team Katusha at 1-47
6. Jens Voigt (Ger) Team Saxo Bank at 1-59
7. Kevin Seeldrayers (Bel) Quick Step at 2-29
8. Jonathan Hivert (Fra) Skil-Shimano at 2-57
9. Yury Trofimov (Rus) BBox Bouygues Telecom at 3-37
10. Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Francaise des Jeux at 4-00
Paris-Nice: Recent winners
2009 Luis-Leon Sanchez (Spain) Caisse d’Epargne
2008 Davide Rebellin (Italy) Gerolsteiner
2007 Alberto Contador (Spain) Discovery Channel
2006 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak
2005 Bobby Julich (USA) CSC
2004 Jorg Jaksche (Germany) CSC
2003 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan) Telekom
2002 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan) Telekom
2001 Dario Frigo (Italy) Fassa Bortolo
2000 Andreas Kloden (Germany) Telekom
Paris-Nice 2010: Stage reports
three: Sagan is the new kid on the block
two: William Bonnet wins in Limoges after chaotic finish
one: Sky’s Henderson wins as wind splits bunch
Boom beats the big names to win