Rolland leads Cannondale in Paris-Nice

Pierre Rolland, Tom-Jelte Slagter and Wouter Wippert headline the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team’s roster for the Race to the Sun, dubbed such because it runs from the colder climes of Paris in the early spring to the Mediterranean town of Nice over the course of a week. This year’s edition will cover 1,290 kilometers over seven road stages and a prologue. There are two true mountain days, two hilly endeavors and three anticipated sprint finishes.

Cannondale heads to the race with several ambitions: a good showing on the general classification with Rolland, punch in the hills with Slagter and a shot in the sprints on the legs of Wippert.

For Rolland, the race is an opportunity to compete on home soil and take measure of his different approach to training with a new team.

“I am always very happy racing in France. There are three major competitions for me in France: The Dauphiné, Paris-Nice and the Tour de France,” he said. “The first round of the major races in France is always an event. Also, I have not raced in front of the French since the Tour de France 2015.”

Cannondale Pro Cycling Team director Charly Wegelius anticipates a strong showing from the Frenchman over the course of the season.

“Pierre is coming off a period at altitude, which so far in his career has been a rarity. He has really applied himself well over the winter and has approached all the new experiences with great enthusiasm. I am sure it will pay itself back in terms of results over the season,” he said.

A Frenchmen has won Paris-Nice 21 times (the most of any nation, by a good measure to Belgium’s 14) but not since 1997.

“It’s a strong team and a balanced one,” Wegelius added. “You could almost divide it into two groups: we have a classics group based around Dylan Van Baarle, along with Matti Breschel, Paddy Bevin, and Wouter Wippert and a climbing group lead by the Andrew Talansky / Rolland duo, with great support from Lawson Craddock and Tom-Jelte Slagter.”

“A rider in the top 10 in Nice and a stage win somewhere on the way from one of our several options would be a great result,” Wegelius said.

One of those “several” options comes in the form of Wippert, who’s been knocking on the door since the Tour Down Under; the 25-year-old sprinter has three top five finishes to his credit this season.

“Wouter is getting very close to that point where he pulls off something big — pulls off a first win in Europe, first win at the World Tour level,” team manager Jonathan Vaughters said. “He tends to go big or go home. He’s going to be sprinting for the win — he’s going to take big risks to get that. He’s not one of those sprinters who’s going to be ‘in the wheels, in the wheels, ok, he got third again.’ He always tries to come off the wheel. Sometimes that hurts him from getting placings, because he’s totally focused on the win.”

Craddock, also a new signing for the team, likes Cannondale’s chances.

“It’s a really good group of guys. I think with the guys we’re bringing we have a really good shot to do well overall. It’s encouraging and exciting. It’ll be good to get out there and race with guys I haven’t raced with before  — guys like Pierre and Matti Breschel,” he said. “The main goal is to help out. When you look at the team, there’s a pretty good shot to do well overall.”

The Race to the Sun begins on Sunday, March 6 in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine with a 6.1km prologue and ends on Sunday, March 13 in Nice.

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