Richie Porte became the first Australian winner of Paris-Nice and continued Sky’s show of force with intelligent racing and a well-drilled squad. The race was an absorbing contest between young gunslingers such as runner-up Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) and more experienced riders such as Porte and third-placed Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale).
Before the prologue, no one picked 26-year old Frenchman Damien Gaudin (Europcar) as a potential winner. Better known as a track rider, he had yet to enjoy an individual professional win – but win he did. The podium was completed by more fancied riders: French national champion Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Dutch champion Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) both finished a second down on the 2.9km course.
French riders continued to shine on stage one, where Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) bested the Italian duo of Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Merida) and Elia Viviani (Cannondale) in the bunch sprint in a race beset by crosswinds and nervous crashes. Bouhanni adroitly rode Chavanel’s wheel, then came around him with 200 metres to go and held off Petacchi to win the stage – his second of the season – and take the leader’s jersey.
Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) notched up his second victory of the season the following afternoon. The 24-year old German was the strongest and fastest on the uphill finish, well ahead of Viviani and Australian Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEDGE). Thanks to time bonuses, Viviani took over the leader’s and points jerseys to add to his best young rider’s one. Erstwhile race leader Bouhanni fell with 57km to go and abandoned. After the day’s breakaway was caught, the peloton remained pretty much together and Tom and his magnificent Boonens (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) spent a fair time leading the bunch and protecting the team’s overall contender, Chavanel.
Andrew Talansky took an emphatic victory (Garmin-Sharp’s first of the season) on stage three’s lumpy parcours to Brioude. The 24-year old American had ridden away in the pouring rain on the treacherous, steep, twisting descent of the Cat 2 Cote de Mauvagnat with Sky’s David Lopez and Richie Porte, bridging up to a quartet who’d attacked over the climb’s summit. The seven co-operated over the final 7km, and managed to withstand a concerted chase from behind to finish seven seconds clear. Davide Malacarne (Europcar) was runner-up just ahead of Gorka Izagirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
The initial four-man break of the day was never allowed more than a four-minute lead and they were reeled in with just under 25km left to ride. The peloton upped the pace on the approach to the last climb on the final circuit, 15km from the finish. Andriy Grivko went clear over the summit to be joined by Sky’s Vasil Kiryienka before the latter crashed on the slippery, wet road. The six other riders went across to Grivko in two separate moves and made it all the way to the finish line. Race leader Viviani was dropped on the final climb, lost almost three minutes and handed over the yellow jersey to Talansky, the fourth rider in as many days to lead the race.
Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE) won the fourth stage by several lengths, with a perfectly timed late sprint. The Swiss rider was part of the leading bunch in the final stretch of a lumpy 199.5km stage. Kazakh Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana), who’d been a major protagonist in the final kilometre or so, was runner-up, with Slovakian Peter Velits (OPQS) third.
The day’s seven-rider break was never allowed to build a winning advantage and while two French riders, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Hubert Dupont (Ag2r), slipped away in the final 25km, everyone was caught with 15km remaining. The catch prompted a flurry of counter-attacks but no one was able to make one stick and about 40 riders, including most of the GC contenders, came to the finish together. Iglinskiy jumped first only to be easily overtaken by Albasini, to record his first win of the season. Talansky finished a comfortable sixth to retain his yellow jersey.
Richie Porte (Sky) rode a tactically astute race on Friday’s queen stage, launching his decisive attack just over a kilometre from the summit finish. The Tasmanian, whose teammates had managed the procession up La Montagne de Lure, responded to all the attacks, including several from race leader Talansky, before launching his own.
The day’s break included veteran German hard-man Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Leopard) who attacked solo at the foot of the final climb but was reeled in by the Sky-led peloton with 7km remaining. Attacks then came thick and fast but only Denis Menchov (Katusha) was able to jump away. However, he was unable to respond as Porte sped past him and onto his solo win, but held on to finish runner-up while Talansky finished third 33 seconds down. The result shook up the GC, with Porte now leading by 32 seconds over Talansky and 42 seconds over Westra.
Sylvain Chavanel sprinted to victory (his third overall in this race) on Nice’s Promenade des Anglais, outmanoeuvring world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC), who looked to be home and dry, and Spaniard Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) on the penultimate stage six.
An 11-man break was established but was never allowed more than a three-minute advantage by the Sky team of race leader Porte. Despite an attack by Chavanel, his teammate Peter Velits and Andriy Grivko (Astana) to grab bonus seconds at the second intermediate sprint, everyone was safely back in the peloton before the final descent and fast run into Nice. Sky retained its firm grip on proceedings until the dying kilometres when BMC and Ag2r took over to set up Gilbert and the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin, who finished fourth. Chavanel’s win moved him into an unassailable lead in the points competition and up into third place overall. Johann Tschopp (IAM), who was one of the 11 out front, locked down the King of the Mountains competition.
Sunday’s final stage saw Porte take his second stage win – and with it the overall – in the time trial on the mythical Col d’Eze. He was 23 seconds faster than Talansky who rode well to defend his second place and the jersey of best young rider. Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar) finished in third place, four seconds behind Talansky. The only major change on GC was occasioned by Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r) who, after falling at the start, finished fourth on the stage, leapfrogging from fifth to third overall, his best result ever in a WorldTour event.
Porte was delighted with his historic win:
I never had a nice experience here other than helping Bradley win last year and to come here and to win it is incredible. It will take time to sink in. I don’t really understand why I was so stressed for the last couple of days because I know this climb like the back of my hand. I’ve done it many times in training but it’s always a bit of pressure to perform when it counts. It’s great for me and for the other seven guys to come and win this Paris-Nice.
Analysis & opinion
Before the race started, there was a long list of potential contenders for the overall. But with each passing day the list grew smaller. Sky might not have sent their A-team, but their B-team proved to be better than anyone else’s. Vasil Kiryienka and David Lopez, both prominent in riding in support of Porte, are showing to have been astute acquisitions. Are they going to dominate all this season’s stage races? Only time will tell but the portents are ominous.
It was good to see young American riders such as Andrew Talansky (second overall) and BMC’s Tejay van Garderen (fourth) being given an opportunity to lead but their forces were not a match for those of the deadly stealth-like Sky-train.
Stage six winner Sylvain Chavanel slipped to fifth overall after a noteworthy ninth place in the uphill time trial – not his forte – but his overall form augurs well for the upcoming spring Classics.
It was also a very good race for the home teams with wins for Damien Gaudin (Europcar), and Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ), and a podium place for Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r).
As the battle for the three Tour de France wild-cards hots up, Johann Tschopp (IAM), winner of the King of the Mountains jersey, demonstrated that his team are worthy of consideration.
1. Richie Porte (Sky) 29:59:47
2. Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) +0:55
3. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale) +1:21
4. Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) +1:44
5. Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +1:47
6. Simon Spilak (Katusha) +1:48
7. Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) +1:54
8. Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) +2:17
9. Andreas Kloden (RadioShack Leopard) +2:22
10.Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +2:28