Paris-Nice 2016: An in depth look into the stages and GC contenders

The 74th edition of Paris-Nice will run from the 6th of March to the 13th 2016. It will include one prologue and 7 stages.

The three men who jump out among the contenders are Porte (BMC Racing) and Contador (Tinkoff), both winning the title twice, with Geraint Thomas (Sky) one to keep a close eye on after an impressive overall victory at the Volta ao Algarve. Fabio Aru (Astana) was thought to be doing the race but recently opted to skip the stage race as he cuts down his race programme. Contador last took part way back in 2010, when Porte was his team mate at Saxo Bank. Paris-Nice is used by many tour contenders to see what level they are currently racing at and to build vital base endurance for the Tour. With it being a seven stages race it isn’t to taxing for an all out effort to win but this year’s route is a bit of a gruelling one. The GC contenders at this race take it seriously, a race if won to be proud of. It will instil confidence to the victorious overall and stage winners; this then sets the tune for the season. The race will be won and lost on Stages Five, Six and Seven where the GC riders will dig deep on the mountain passes. The leaders will also need to have a strong team to avoid any unwanted surprises on the way into Vendome and not to lose unnecessary time into Mont Brouilly.

Prologue. Is a flat 6.1km TT Prologue and the only race against the clock all week.

Stage 1. Should be one for the sprinters and heads southwest into the flat exposed roads found at the Tour de France. There are a couple of minor obstacles to negotiate: a 600m and 1300m segment of limestone gravel road.

Stage 2. Another stage for the sprinters it would seem but look out for the exposed roads. If there are heavy cross winds this is where a strong team will come into play to protect the GC rider. Some riders may get caught out and if unlucky find themselves losing minutes by the time they roll in.

Stage 3. The summit finish at Mont Brouilly is a 3km 8% climb. The effort on the climb will be difficult to measure due to the steep ramps followed by the brief landings. Going from 14% grade to then having to shift into the big gear can disrupt the rhythm of a climb.

Stage 4. This one is again for the sprinters, although it could be considered a hilly stage the peloton should reel any break-away’s in for a fast finish into Romans-sur-Isere.

Stage 5. There is a visit to the slopes of Mont Ventoux on the Mountainous stage five, where they will ride the lower slopes up to Chalet Reynard. A great opportunity for a break-away victory or failing that a small group to get away on the latter category 2 climbs of the Cote de la Roque and Col de Seze.

stage 5Stage 6. This will be mostly likely the stage to decide the winner. The major summit finish will be up the 15.6km Madone D’Utelle, at an average of 5.3%. Expect Porte or Thomas to attack and get into time trial mode once the grade lessens. The 6 categorised climbs before the Madone will be sure to sap the legs before the final climb.

stage 6

Stage 7. It won’t be an easy finish into Nice either if there are a few seconds to play for in the GC you could expect all out efforts for the win, with its punchy climbs and steep descents. With 6 categorised climbs and a cat 1 coming in the shape of the Col d’Eze (7.7km at 5.7%) 26km from the finish and then a 15km descent into Nice; if a gap is formed and alliances created who knows what the final result could be?

stage 7Porte looking to defend his title has aided his bid by becoming the team leader of BMC Racing, whereas he was seen as an upper domestique for Sky. Meaning the team, training and race preparation for the season are geared around him and Tejay van Garderen, the other joint leader. At the Tour Down Under Porte claimed his first victory for BMC by taking the queen stage and placing a respectable second overall. Will Porte feel the new added pressure of being the team leader, does he have a strong enough team and can he use his knowledge of team Sky to his advantage?

Contador started off his 2016 season with an impressive victory at stage 5 Volta ao Algarve. Contador now in his “last season” will surly want to go out with a bang but has been around long enough and won enough grand tours to know how to prepare correctly. He won’t be taking risks that jeopardise his bid for the Tour de France. He does have the excellent climber alongside and super domestique Rafal Majka.

Sky’s GC leader Thomas had a very impressive performance in last year’s tour showing himself to be one of the best climbers and only fell out of the top three in the final days. This year he has also took the overall win at the Volta ao Algarve. Expect a strong performance with the help and support in the mountains from Nicolas Roche, Mikel Nieve and Sergio Henao. While the likes of Stannard, Boswell, Swift and Rowe will help protect and look after in the flat stages. Thomas comes with a strong team around him.

The stage 6 climb, Madone U’telle, could play into the hands of Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) who was only beaten by Nibali (Astana) on the Green Mountain, Oman. Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), the surprise package at last year’s Vuelta Espana, will look to cement his place as a stage racer and came in less than 10 seconds behind Bardet on the same stage. Others which have a notable mention and will be looking for a podium spot are: Jerome Coppel (IAM Cycling), Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE), Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and Pierre Rolland (Cannondale).

With some tricky finishes such as stage 3 the “power” riders may be looking to get in the break-away’s or make a solo punch off the front of the peloton. Expect riders such as Gallopin, Gilbert, Chavanel, Albasini or Westra to jump into break-away’s or steal a march up some of the punchy climbs. This could limit the victories for the sprinters such as: Kittel, Kristoff (Katusha) and Greipel (Lotto-Soudal). If it does come down to a sprint and showing great early season form Kittel (Etixx-Quick-Step) should be the man to back.

Paris-Nice route 2016 (March 6 – March 13):

Sunday, March 6, prologue: Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, 6.1 km (ITT)
Monday, March 7, Stage 1: Condé-sur-Vesgre > Vendôme, 195 km
Tuesday, March 8, Stage 2: Contres > Commentry, 214 km
Wednesday, March 9, Stage 3: Cusset > Mont Brouilly, 165.5 km
Thursday, March 10, Stage 4: Juliénas > Romans-sur-Isère, 193.5 km
Friday, March 11, Stage 5: Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux > Salon-de-Provence, 198 km
Saturday, March 12, Stage 6: Nice > La Madone d’Utelle, 177 km
Sunday, March 13, Stage 7: Nice > Nice, 141 km

By Peter Denness