The Big Preview: Paris-Nice
Alberto Contador will be the clear favourite for Paris-Nice (March 8-15, 2009), having won the Tour of the Algarve in Portugal last month, and is no doubt keen to make a big impression on his boss at Astana, Johan Bruyneel, and team-mate Lance Armstrong.
The race starts with a 9.3-kilometre prologue in Amilly on Sunday, which should suit the two British riders representing Garmin-Slipstream, David Millar and Bradley Wiggins. Wiggins played down expectations, telling Cycling Weekly: "You know me, I don't do predictions." But his team-mate Millar said both riders were in good shape for the test.
Millar has restructured his early season programme in order to have a good shot at being on form at Paris-Nice. Last year, he made the Race to the Sun one of his main targets, only to fall ill at the start of the race and pulled out of the race after struggling to finish the Mont Ventoux stage.
This year, the start of the season has been more low key, and at the Tour of the Algarve, there were the green shoots of some form beginning to show.
"Last year I trained hard so I could race Qatar at 100 per cent, then went to California and was second overall, then by the time I got back to Europe and Paris-Nice I was a broken man," said Millar.
Above: Millar started his 2008 season with a bang but fell ill at Paris-Nice
"In hindsight, I was expecting too much, and when the weather was cold and wet, I was vulnerable and I got sick. I put a lot of pressure on myself last year. Racing hard at California and doing a lot of media work, because it was important to lay all that groundwork to make the team accessible and popular. I was burning the candle at both ends.
"So this year, the plan was to try to delay the form a little and, hopefully, bring last year's California form to Paris-Nice. We're still accessible as a team, we're still giving the fans something to identify with and support, but this year we're more performance-orientated."
Instead, Millar rode the Tour of the Mediterranean and Tour of the Algarve, and enjoyed a good ride at each.
"On Mont Faron [Tour of the Med] my job was to be with Dan [Martin] at the bottom and ride with him. I could see he wasn't on a super day, so I was there working for him. Then towards the finish I didn't sit up, I rode in as strongly as I could.
"In Algarve, the time trial took me a bit by surprise. It wasn't quite what I was expecting. There was 600 metres of climbing, and I punctured. It was a really fun time trial, but harder than I expected so I was pleased with my result."
Millar says Paris-Nice is a 'day-to-day phenomenon'. "I've only glanced at the route, to be perfectly honest. The summit finish is not a super big summit finish. The race could happen anywhere. If there are crosswinds, it could split up and the race could be over for some.
"The course looks heavy. As a team we'll aim to be alert, as will the likes of Saxo Bank, Quick Step. We all know Alberto [Contador] is in form. Sylvain [Chavanel] is one of the usual suspects."
Millar, Martin and Wiggins ride for Garmin-Slipstream. Dan Fleeman and Jeremy Hunt are the two British riders lining up for Cervelo, and Ireland's Nicolas Roche will be racing for Ag2r.
WHO'S GOING TO WIN?We assess the favourites for the final yellow jersey in Nice
Surprising that some have raised question marks over his motivation for Paris-Nice, considering he won the Tour of the Algarve recently. Having said that, there's no time trial here for him to win almost by default, so he'll have to climb well on the two key stages. Won Paris-Nice in 2007. What better way to send a message to anyone paying attention to his form than by winning the first serious stage race of the year?
Runner-up to Davide Rebellin by just three seconds last year - the closest Paris-Nice ever. Won a stage of the Tour of California, so clearly in good form.
Sylvain Chavanel (France, Quick Step)
Has started the season strongly. Second to Contador in Portugal, looked good in Belgium last weekend. Leads a very strong Quick Step squad, which also has Alexander Efimkin and Carlos Barredo.
Frank Schleck (Luxembourg, Saxo Bank)
Was scheduled to ride Tirreno-Adriatico, but has chosen to avoid Italy. Saxo Bank presumably want to cash in on his good form, as seen in California, in the hillier of the two stage races.
Young climber rode well at the Tour of the Mediterranean. Paris-Nice is definitely a step up, but the top ten isn't out of the question.
Yaroslav Popovych (Ukraine, Astana)
Ostensibly a support rider for Contador, but if the Spaniard chooses to take a back seat, Popo can step up and take his chance.
Roman Kreuziger (Czech Republic, Liquigas)
A phenomenal talent, but hasn't really got his season going yet.
Keeps posting very solid stage race results. Knocking on the door of a real breakthrough soon.
Carlos Barredo (Spain, Quick Step)
Quick Step's Plan B.
David Moncoutie (France, Cofidis)
Fully recovered from injury, will be motivated to get a good result.
Probably won't go full gas, but as we saw last year when he duelled with Robert Gesink, he's likely to show himself on at least one day.
Juan Manuel Garate (Spain, Rabobank)
Was in the top ten last year. With Gesink skipping the race, he's Rabobank's best hope for the overall.
David Millar (Great Britain, Garmin-Slipstream)
Altered his early season in a bid to be good at Paris-Nice. Hopes he can transfer his 2008 Tour of California form here
Luis Leon Sanchez (Spain, Caisse d'Epargne)
Won a stage last year and was fifth overall. Not a rock-solid gc contender, but can cope with the climbing here.
Maxime Montfort (Belgium, Team Columbia)
Has a free hand to ride for the overall.
>>>For a full list of starters visit the official website
Sunday, March 8: Prologue
Amilly time trial, 9.3km
CW says An out-and-back course, and twice the length as recent Paris-Nice prologues, which have been under five kilometres. It's pretty flat and will favour the speed-merchants, so Garmin's David Millar and Bradley Wiggins will be among the favourites for the first yellow jersey.
Monday, March 9: Stage one
San-Brisson-sur-Loire - La Chapelle-Saint-Ursin, 195.5km
CW says A typical opening stage. Lumpy and could be windy. Expect a long break to succumb near the finish. Likely to be a sprint finish even though most of the sprinters are heading for Tirreno-Adriatico this year. Watch for Gert Steegmans (Katusha).
Tuesday, March 10: Stage two
Orval - Vichy, 178km
CW says The 6.9-kilometre third-category Col de la Bosse makes this trickier than a run-of-the-mill flat stage. It will be difficult for anyone to stay away though. Another sprint on the cards.
Wednesday, March 11: Stage three
Vichy - Saint-Etienne, 173.5km
CW says With four third-category climbs in the second half of the stage, this is a day to be alert. The final climb, the Cote de Rochetailee, could be a spring board for the stage victory and shuffle the overall classification in the process.
Thursday, March 12: Stage four
Annonay - Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, 204km
CW says The longest stage of the race, and very difficult, with seven categorised climbs. The rise and fall nature of the stage is relentless until the descent of the first-category Col de Benas. Not a day to decide the race, but a few could lose it here.
Friday, March 13: Stage five
Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux - La Montagne de Lure, 182km
CW says The stand-out stage of the race. Mont Ventoux will be on the horizon for much of the day. The final climb is 13 kilometres long and the climbers will try to sort the race out here.
Saturday, March 14: Stage six
Manosque - Fayence, 191km
CW says This stage is climbing crazy. There are nine categorised climbs, so the king of the mountains will be sewn up today. Although none of the climbs are in the same league as La Montagne de Lure, the cumulative effect will be wearing. Should be a great day's racing.
Sunday, March 15: Stage seven
Nice - Nice, 119km
CW says In the absence of the Col d'Eze time trial of yesteryear, this circuit featuring the Col de la Porte, La Turbie and Eze itself, is the modern tradition. It's short, sweet and potentially-explosive. If the race for the yellow jersey is still alive, this is where it will be decided.
All times subject to change. Check your TV listings daily
|BRITISH AND IRISH RIDERS|
Jeremy Hunt (Cervelo)
Dan Martin (Garmin-Slipstream)
David Millar (Garmin-Slipstream)
Nicolas Roche (Ag2r)
Bradley Wiggins (Garmin-Slipstream)
|2008 TOP 10|
Above: (l-r) Yaroslav Popovych, Davide Rebellin and Rinaldo Nocentini. Rebellin will not ride this year after his Serramenti PVC team was declined an invite
1. Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner 29-02-48
2. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) Ag2r at 3sec
3. Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Silence-Lotto at 48sec
4. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank at 51sec
5. Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne at 1-09
6. Juan Manuel Garate (Spa) Quick Step at 1-12
7. Gorka Verdugo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 2-17
8. Carlos Barredo (Spa) Quick Step at 2-24
9. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis at 2-39
10. Alexander Efimkin (Rus) Quick Step at 3-21
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
1999 Michael Boogerd (Netherlands) Rabobank
Paris-Nice 2009 route unveiled
Cycling Weekly Rider Profiles: Index
Fleeman to ride Paris-Nice
Official race website - www.letour.fr
PARIS-NICE 2008: STAGE REPORTS
Why Paris-Nice was simply a great race
Stage seven: Rebellin hangs on, Sanchez takes the stage
Stage six: Gesink sinks
Stage five: Quick Step make it three
Stage four: Evans above
Stage three: Flying Finn takes the win
Stage two: Steegmans back on top
Stage one: Steegmans rides the storm
Prologue: Hushovd wins