Paris-Nice, the first big stage race of the 2012 season, kicks off on Sunday, March 4 in Dampierre-en-Yvelines.
The ‘Race to the Sun’ provides the first real leg stretcher for Grand Tour contenders eager to test out their form and assess the condition of their major rivals.
Few of the main contenders have genuinely ridden in anger at this stage of the year, let alone reached any sort of peak form. However, the prestigious nature of France’s second-biggest stage race brings out the best in riders who have thus far been drifting through early season events such as the Tour of Oman and Tour of the Algarve.
It’s a lumpy old race. Every stage has at least one categorised climb, some have five or six. The final day, an uphill individual time trial from Nice to Col d’Eze, is likely to be the decisive stage. It’s not a huge mountain, by any means, so a strong time trial specialist could still perform as well as the climbing men.
Paris-Nice concludes on Sunday, March 11. For our guide to the key stages, team list, British TV guide and more, please read our 2012 Paris-Nice Big Preview.
Tony Martin (Germany) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
Defending champion Martin returns with a new team, having joined Omega Pharma-QuickStep after HTC-Highroad failed to find a new sponsor for 2012. The reigning world time trial champion will be extra motivated to take the win, particularly as he was beaten by Bradley Wiggins (Sky) in the final time trial in the Tour of the Algarve two weeks ago.
Bradley Wiggins (Great Britain) Sky
Wiggins no longer needs to prove that he is capable of taking major stage race wins, having won the Criterium du Dauphine last year followed up with a third place at the Vuelta a Espana. With two short individual tests against the clock bookending the the 2012 edition of Paris-Nice, Wiggins has ample chance to gain time on his rivals. He will also be buoyed by the fact that he’s already beaten arch rival Martin in a time trial this year, in the Tour of the Algarve.
Frank Schleck (Luxembourg) RadioShack-Nissan
RadioShack-Nissan come to Paris-Nice with an embarrassment of riches. Those riches may be more Elizabeth Duke than Fabergé, but no one can deny the stage race pedigree of Frank and Andy Schleck, and Andreas Kloden. We’re going for Frank Schleck as RadioShack’s top pick for Paris-Nice. The older Schleck brother will have a chance to shine before Andy hogs the limelight at the Tour de France in July. Possibly.
Alejandro Valverde (Spain) Movistar
Valverde’s recently-expired two-year ban for doping does not seem to have dulled the Spaniard’s turn of speed. He returned to the peloton pretty much as
he left it, placing second in the Tour Down Under in January and winning the Vuelta a Andalucia. The punchy parcours of Paris-Nice should suit him, although stage wins are probably more of a target than the overall.
Thomas Voeckler (France) Europcar
Voeckler won two stages of Paris-Nice last year, but failed to make an impact in the top ten overall. Another strong ride in the Tour de France last year culminating in him finishing fourth overall will have swelled his confidence against the big hitters on the start list. Carries France’s hopes of a home win.
Andreas Kloden (Germany) RadioShack-Nissan
Kloden’s ability to either: a) pull a great ride out of nowhere or b) to slip to the back of the bunch never to be seen again should never be underestimated. The 36-year-old German finished runner-up to Martin last year but with the Schleck brothers both present on RadioShack’s roster for the race he may have to take up a domestique role.
Andy Schleck (Luxembourg) RadioShack-Nissan
Andy Schleck’s traditional weakness in time trials, and RadioShack-Nissan’s list of potential top five material could sideline the younger Schleck brother. He has bigger fish to fry come July – although he may put his rumoured off-season time trial training to the test on the final uphill test against the clock.
Richie Porte (Australia) Sky
Fresh from winning the Tour of the Algarve, Richie Porte is again showing the all-round riding prowess that saw him take the lead in the Giro d’Italia in 2010. A move to Sky seems to have suited him, and although he will be supporting Wiggins he is a solid second option for the British team should Plan A go awry.
Rein Taaramae (Estonia) Cofidis
We’re still waiting for 24-year-old Taaramae to make the big breakthrough that he has threatened for the past few seasons. Fourth in Paris-Nice last year, this could be the year he makes his mark.
Denis Menchov (Russia) Katusha
Only rivalled by Andreas Kloden in his ability to have yo-yoing form, the ageing Menchov comes home to Russian squad Katusha after a dodgy year with defunct team Geox-TMC. Needs a result.
Levi Leipheimer (USA) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
Free of the shackles of Johan Bruyneel and the RadioShack team, Leipheimer joined Belgian team Omega Pharma-QuickStep with hopes of having a good season. So far, so good, with an overall win at the Tour de San Luis already in the bag. His biggest drawback is that defending Paris-Nice champ Tony Martin is on the same team.
Janez Brajkovic (Slovenia) Astana
2010 Crierium du Dauphine winner Brajkovic returns to Astana for 2012 after a spell with RadioShack. Seventh overall in Paris-Nice last year, Brajkovic was one of the contenders who subsequently got hammered in the Tour de France, crashing out on stage five. Needs a confidence-restoring ride here.
Also watch out for: Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank), Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD), Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank), Sandy Casar (FDJ-BigMat), Christophe Le Mevel (Garmin-Barracuda), Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale), Nicolas Roche (Ag2r), Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM).
Disclaimer: Do not under any circumstance use our picks for use in forum race prediction leagues, betting, etc. This will lead to disappointment and/or possible financial loss.