This eight-day race is viewed as the traditional European season opener. It starts on Sunday in the cold, grey Parisian suburbs and heads south to finish the following Sunday in the traditionally warmer weather of Nice on the Cote d’Azur.
As with many of cycling’s oldest races, Paris-Nice was originally the brainchild of two newspapers: Paris’ Le Petit Journal and Nice’s Le Petit Niçois. The papers’ owner thought a race that he called ‘Le Six Jours de la Route’ would both connect his two papers and stimulate tourism on the Cote d’Azur.
What kind of race is it?
Paris-Nice offers something for everyone: a time trial for men who excel against the clock, flat stages for the sprinters and undulating rolling stages for the breakaway artists. This year’s parcours is again bookended by a prologue and an individual time trial, the latter finishing atop Col d’Eze.
Thanks to its varied terrain, Paris-Nice is typically won by an all-rounder, many of whom have also won the Tour de France. Jacques Anquetil won five times, while the great Eddy Merckx is a three-time winner. Alberto Contador won in 2007 and 2010. Bradley Wiggins won last year. But the race’s greatest champion is Irishman and now Eurosport commentator Sean Kelly, who won the Race to the Sun an amazing seven consecutive times from 1982 to 1988.
In 2002, organisation of the race was assumed by Tour de France organiser ASO and since 2005 it’s been part of the UCI’s ProTour. Paris-Nice is a WorldTour event so all 19 ProTeams are taking part, plus wild-cards Sojasun, Cofidis, Europcar and IAM.
The most recent winners of the race are:
- 2008: Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner)
- 2009: Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d’Epargne)
- 2010: Alberto Contador (Astana)
- 2011: Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad)
- 2012: Bradley Wiggins (Sky)
What happened last year?
Bradley Wiggins (Sky) became only the second British rider to win Paris-Nice, 45 years after Tommy Simpson. His victory was forged in the pouring rain on day one’s time trial, cemented on stage two’s wind-wrecked course, held together by impressive tactics and strong team support and, finally, crowned today atop Col d’Eze with a measured display of power and precision.
After the race Bradley commented on his victory:
In terms of pressure, it was nothing compared to an Olympic final on track. You can also enjoy the moment. I was confident in my ability, I stayed in the front all week and did not put a foot wrong.
I know the history of the sport and to be on that list and to become the second Brit after Tom Simpson to win Paris-Nice means a lot for me. I’m on that list of riders who won Paris-Nice, the Dauphine. There’s just one left now to win.
I said Paris-Nice was a stepping stone, no disrespect for Paris-Nice. But I must continue that progression to July now.
And we all know how that story ended …
Here’s the link to the review of last year’s race.
1. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) 28:12:16
2. Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:08
3. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +1:10
4. Simon Spilak (Katusha) +1:24
5. Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) +1:54
6. Arnold Jeannesson (FDJ-BigMat) +2:13
7. Maxime Monfort (RadioShack-Nissan) +2:21
8. Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +2:42
9. Robert Kiserlovski (Astana) +3:30
10. Angel Vicioso (Katusha) +3:59
The route starts with a flat, technical 2.9km prologue in the suburbs of Paris before heading south across the exposed plains of the Loire Valley. The overall contenders will need to be vigilant if it’s windy, the peloton splits and echelons form, while the sprinters will be relishing the 4km straight run-in to the finish where their trains will be able to demonstrate their craft. Day three also favours the sprinters but finishes on a false flat after two circuits of the final 18km loop.
On the next two stages, fortune should favour the baroudeurs on an undulating route across the Massif Central to finish first in Brioude and then onto the rolling terrain of the Haute-Loire and Ardèche to Saint-Vallier. These will serve as the warm-up event to this year’s queen stage.
On stage five, the Cat 1 summit finish on Montagne de Lure – dubbed Mont Ventoux’s ‘little sister’ – will whittle down the GC contenders, if not determine the outright winner. The 13.8km climb to 1,600 metres is the highest point in Paris-Nice’s history.
The following day’s 220km stage across a string of hard climbs – the most taxing being the 7.6km Cote de Cabris averaging 5.8% – from Manosque to Nice will mean whoever’s in yellow will need to be particularly attentive. Tour director Christian Prudhomme said this year’s course would guarantee an exciting, down-to-the-wire GC battle by keeping the time gaps relatively tight before the final day decider on Col d’Eze where some of the sport’s greatest champions have triumphed. Who will join them? (For a 3D view of the climb, see Cycling the Alps’ website here.)
Who to watch
With the defending champion and many of the other Paris-Nice habitués opting for Tirreno-Adriatico, those who turn up should provide us with an intriguing battle. It may well give an opportunity to one of the up-and-coming talents to stamp their name on this prestigious event.
The first few days have the sprinters’ names written all over them: Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Merida) and Heinrich Haussler (IAM) have won stages in previous editions while French national champion Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ), Elia Viviani (Cannondale), Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) and Mark Renshaw (Blanco) will be looking for maiden wins.
On the fertile ground for punchy riders we should expect to see world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) to the fore. There’s no shortage of mountain goats hoping to shine on the queen stage. Will Euskaltel take their first win of the season with Mikel Nieve? We’ll have to wait and see.
A dozen or so riders have announced that the top step of the podium in Nice is one of their targets. Seven of last year’s top ten are back for more, including runner-up Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM), as well as best young rider Tejay Van Garderen (BMC), who finished fifth in the last Tour de France, plus Sylvain Chavanel (OPQS), who always performs well here.
Local resident, Cofidis’ Rein Taaramae has done well here in previous years – seventh in 2010 and fourth in 2011 – but watch out also for Rui Costa and Nairo Quintana (both Movistar), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp), Robert Gesink (Blanco), Richie Porte (Sky) and Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale). One thing’s for sure, it’ll be a tightly fought contest.
March 3rd: Prologue – Houilles, 2.9km individual time trial
March 4th: Stage 1 – Saint-Germain-en-Layeto- Nemours, 195km
March 5th: Stage 2 – Vimory to Cerilly, 200.5km
March 6th: Stage 3 – Chatel-Guyon to Brioude, 170.5km
March 7th: Stage 4 – Brioude to Saint Vallier, 199.5km
March 8th: Stage 5 – Chateauneuf-du-Pape to la Montagne de Lure, 176km
March 9th: Stage 6 – Manosque to Nice, 220km
March 10th: Stage 7 – Col d’Eze, 9.6km individual time trial
Paris-Nice starts on Sunday 3rd March and concludes on Sunday 10th. Daily live coverage will be shown by Eurosport and France 3. For other options check cyclingfans.com. For detailed 3D maps and profiles of all the climbs, visit cyclingthealps.com.
Link: Official website