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Paris-Nice – ‘The race to the sun,’ kicks off this year with a stage one 9.4 kilometre time trial between Dampierre-en-Yvelines and Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse.
For a time trial of this length a ‘chrono man’ needs to be pushing out close to 450w or 7w/kg to get anywhere near the sharp end of the result sheet.
The first two kilometers are almost all uphill including a third cat climb, the “Cote des Dix-sept Tournates” before gradually descending for three kilometers before a false flat dragging to the line.
STAGE TWO: A 185.5 km jaunt between Mantes-la-Jolie and Orléans which is almost completely flat and will surely finish in a bunch sprint.
But there’s always the risk of crosswinds in this part of France - which could cause some of the lighter built GCriders a headache.
Once the echelons form, if you’re not in one of the lines you’ll have to generate around 500w - which is almost impossible to sustain for more than a few minutes and quickly drains the reserves. For this reason it's vital that the domestiques position their GC men well in the bunch - splits and echelons can happen very quickly and without warning.
In 2009 I remember the entire Rabobank team removing their rain capes going over the top of a climb and attacking en-masse on a descent which opened out onto an open plain.
They split the peloton into eight groups, none of which came back together before the finish.
STAGES THREE AND FOUR: Pass through Central France and its notoriously heavy roads.
There are no haute montagne but scatterings of second and third category climbs will take their toll and result in close to five hour stages with a normalized power of over 300w on both of these days. On the long stages the riders will be burning 4000 and more Kcal; fuelling is key on these stages.
STAGE FIVE: Onet-le-Château – Mende is 178.5 km in length and is where the race will start to take real shape.
The final eight kilometers include the Côte de Chabrits and a final ascent of the Croix-Neuve slope, also known as the “Laurent Jalabert climb”. The last three kilometres have a leg sapping 10 per cent gradient and will require 7w/kg to stay with the leaders – a power to weight like this is very high and difficult to achieve given that it comes directly after the previous tough climb.
STAGE SIX: Suze-la-Rousse – Sisteron is another 178.5 kilometers stage which includes constant second and third cat climbs; while this stage may not cause major splits, it’s still another long hard day which will add to the fatigue built up over the previous stages.
STAGE SEVEN: Sisteron - Nice at 219.5 km is the longest stage of this year’s race and will again take its toll on a weary peloton.
The Cat one climb Col de Vence with 45 kilometers to go may be too far out to cause any major damage in the GC - but climbs like this, which require riders to go above threshold for sustained periods, will certainly hurt at this point in the race.
A long descent follows before the finish on the Promenade des Anglais which has a final five km straight to give the sprinters left in the peloton time to get organised.
The winner will have to generate in excess of 1300w in the final few hundred meters; as well as sitting at over 500w in the period immediately before the sprint, whilst the lead out men do their jobs.
STAGE EIGHT: And the famous Nice-Col d’Eze time trial returns.
Merckx, Poulidor, Zoetemelk, Roche and Kelly, have all won here. Whilst the power meter was not around in their day, they would have been pushing in excess of 7w/kg over almost 10 kilometres. This stage will suit a climber who is also a good all-rounder. If the GC is not already decided by now then this historic stage will provide a dramatic ‘finis’ to a great race.
My predictions for the race:
Opening Time Trial: Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky).
Stages Wins: Hausler/Viviani, Vockler/Chavanel.
Final Time Trail: Richie Porte (Team Sky)
GC: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)