Contador, Bardet and Porte headline Paris-Nice startlist

A duo of two-time Paris-Nice winners stand out among the numerous contenders vying for victory from March 6 to 13. Defending champion Richie Porte was still Alberto Contador’s teammate when the Spaniard last took part in the race, all the way back in 2010. A lifetime ago…

The Race to the Sun is often filled with question marks, and the answers provided on the Promenade des Anglais or the Col d’Èze cannot always be extrapolated to other events. However, the prize on offer in Nice would make any rider proud… and sets the tune for the season. Pretenders to the crown in 2016 will need to hit the ground running in the prologue in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, marshal a strong team to avoid nasty surprises on the way to places such as Vendôme and Mont Brouilly and, most importantly, make the difference on the climb to La Madone d’Utelle, the vantage point where the penultimate stage will be decided. Two-time winner (2013 and 2015) Richie Porte boosted his title defence bid by casting off the domestique shackles holding him back in Sky. He claimed his first scalp at the helm of BMC by taking the queen stage of the Tour Down Under, a race he finished in second place overall.

The Australian will try and kick it up a notch in Paris–Nice, but he will be facing stiffer competition. Alberto Contador, another two-time victor (2007 and 2010), looks well placed to bring home the bacon in his return to the Race to the Sun after a five-year hiatus. “El Pistolero” marked the start of his 2016 season with an impressive summit victory in stage 5 of the Volta ao Algarve but, just like in Portugal, he will have to keep a vigilant eye on the ever-consistent Geraint Thomas, now wearing the leader’s mantle in Sky. The 15 km climb to La Madone d’Utelle could also play into the hands of Romain Bardet, who was only beaten by Vincenzo Nibali on Oman’s Green Mountain. Tom Dumoulin limited his losses to the French climber to under ten seconds in that stage, and Paris–Nice could be an opportunity for him to consolidate his evolution into a stage-race rider. Andrew Talansky, Pierre Rolland, Rui Costa, Simon Yates and Jérôme Coppel also have what it takes to aim for a podium spot or even higher.

The weel-long Paris–Nice will reveal the state of play among the Grand Tour contenders, but it also has something in store for the fast men. With Milan–San Remo looming in the horizon, sprint hunters such as Greipel, Matthews, Kittel, Kristoff, Bouhanni, Démare and Coquard will be on the prowl. Some will have to go home empty-handed, especially considering the profusion of power riders ready to outwit their teams in tricky finishes: Gallopin, Gilbert, Chavanel, Albasini, Westra, Gougeard and Vichot will be ready to pounce.

22 teams, main contenders

Dimension Data: Tyler Farrar, Jacques Janse van Rensburg and Youcef Reguigui
Giant–Alpecin: Tom Dumoulin and Simon Geschke
Orica-GreenEDGE: Michael Albasini, Michael Matthews and Adam Yates
Etixx–Quick-Step: Marcel Kittel, Tom Boonen and Niki Terpstra
Lotto-Soudal: Tony Gallopin, Thomas De Gendt and Andre Greipel
Movistar: Alex Dowsett, Jesus Herrada and Jose Joaquin Rojas
BMC: Richie Porte, Rohan Dennis and Philippe Gilbert
Cannondale: Pierre Rolland, Tom-Jelte Slagter and Andrew Talansky
Trek-Segafredo: Laurent Didier and Frank Schleck
Ag2r–La Mondiale: Romain Bardet, Alexis Vuillermoz and Alexis Gougeard
Fortuneo-Vital Concept: Pierrick Fédrigo and Eduardo Sepúlveda
Cofidis, Solutions Crédits: Nacer Bouhanni and Julien Simon
FDJ: Arnaud Démare and Arthur Vichot
Direct Énergie: Sylvain Chavanel, Bryan Coquard and Thomas Voeckler
Delko Marseille Provence KTM: Leonardo Duque and Yannick Martinez
Team Sky: Geraint Thomas and Mikel Nieve
Lampre-Merida: Rui Costa and Louis Meintjes
Astana: Lars Boom, Lieuwe Westra and L. L. Sánchez
Team LottoNL–Jumbo: Wilco Kelderman and Steven Kruijswijk
Team Katusha: Alexander Kristoff, Simon Špilak and Ilnur Zakarin
Tinkoff: Alberto Contador and Rafal Majka
IAM: Jerome Coppel and Stefan Denifl