Saturday, March 7, 2015

2015 Paris-Nice Race Preview

2015 Paris-Nice, the "Race to the Sun" is about to get underway tomorrow, so I'll post this brief "preview"…

Last year's winner, Carlos Betancur, is going to Tirreno-Adriatico instead this year. He is coming off of a terrible 2014, where he spent much of the season out with injuries, and probably would not be ready to defend his title here this year anyway. Betancur's AG2R teammate, Romain Bardet will surely have something to say at the race to the sun...

This year's other top favorites include Richie Porte (Team SKY), Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quickstep), Tejay Van Garderen (BMC), Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), Wilco Kelderman (Lotto-NLJumbo), and Fabio Aru (Astana). Some others to look out for include Rui Costa (Lampre), Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal), Geraint Thomas and Bradley Wiggins (SKY), Benat Intxausti and the brothers Izaguirre (Movistar), Mathias Frank (IAM), Tom Dumoulin and Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin). (Barguil has said he will probably favor going for a stage win over the General Classification.)


6 Road stages and 2 TTs.
The route is hillier than usual this year, and the Col d'Eze climbing TT returns, on the final stage.

Prologue: 6.7k ITT in Maurepas, flat-ish
Prologue map
Winner: TT specialist, and many are there; Tony Martin, Brad Wiggins, Rohan Dennis, Bob Jungels, Tom Dumoulin...the list goes on (Kelderman, Porte, Zoidl, Chavanel, Boom, Kwiatkowski...), and on. All those mentioned have already shown good form this year. I'm going to pick Wiggins.

Prologue profile

Stage 1: 192k FLAT   
Bunch Sprint; Wind could be a factor, causing splits on the roads to Contres...
W: Sprinter. Take your pick. Some of the best there include Kristoff, Boonen, Greipel, Bouhanni, Rojas, Demare, Swift, Haussler, Coquard, Hofland, Degenkolb, Bonifazio, Nizzolo, Gilbert, Matthews, Dumoulin, Howes, Breschel... I like Kristoff.

Stage 2: 172k FLAT   
Bunch Sprint; [same goes, about the wind]
W: Sprinter. How about Bryan Coquard today?

Stage 3. 179k Low, undulating roads on a slightly jagged profile; with three cat-3 climbs, last one comes with 60+k to go; last little bump inside final 10k;
Uphill sprint finish.

Stage 3 profile

W: Classics specialist/Strong uphill sprinter like Degenkolb, Thomas, Matthews, Gilbert, Maybe Grivko, Bouhanni, Rojas, Bozic...or it could be stolen by an ambitious GC hunter like Richie Porte, Wilco Kelderman, Michal Kwiatkowski, or Tom Dumoulin if the big sprinters can't hold on to the finish. I like Degenkolb.

Stage 4: 204k MTF (Mountaintop Finish);
Longest stage, lots of climbing. Two cat-3 climbs in first 60k; three cat-3s and two cat-2s in final 60k; finishes on cat-1 Croix de Chaubouret (10k at 6.7%, max 9.4%; 1201m).
W: Climber. I like Bardet, Majka, Aru, and Van Garderen, in that order.

Stage 4 profile

Stage 5: 192.5k Escape succeeds?..
Starts with a cat-1 climb (12.2k at 4.5% - biggest climb of the stage) then down to low elev.; Flat till km120; Then a cat-3 at -67k, and a cat-2 with 45k to go, and a final little cat-3 (the Cote de Buisson, 1.8k at 4.3%), then 8.5k to the finish on a steep, [steeper than stage 3]...
punchy, uphill sprint.

Stage 5 profile

W: The strong sprinters' teams should be able to control this stage from Saint-Etiennes to Rasteau, if they choose to. Another one that looks good for Degenkolb, Matthews or Gilbert on paper; but it could just as easily go to anyone who launches a worthy late attack at the right time. Tony Gallopin probably likes this one. I like Gallopin.

Stage 6:182k Mountains; Good for escape;
Lots of climbing, perfect for a strong breakaway to succeed. The top GC guys may or may not want to contest this one for time gains, then again... Three cat-1s and three cat-2s; final descent to finish off of cat-1 Cote de Peille (6.6k at 6.8%), summit comes with 25k to go, almost all downhill to finish [a 30m-high, 500m-long bump tops out with 1k to go. If not the early one, then a late breakaway will probably succeed. If the GC contenders go all out for this stage, then a good descender could run away from the pack on the long, downhill run in to Nice.

Stage 6 profile

W: Richie Porte, Michal Kwiatkowski, Rui Costa, Tejay Van Garderen, Wilco Kelderman, Nico Roche should be favorites here, but I also like several others including Luis Leon Sanchez, now on the beleaguered Astana team, and he is my pick.

Stage 7: 9.6k uphill ITT Col d'Eze (9.6k at 4.7%; flat 1.2k at top);
Richie Porte is my pick for stage 7. Other contenders include Michal Kwiatkowski, Tony Martin, Tejay Van Garderen, JC Peraud, Tom Dumoulin--look for whoever proved to be best on stages 4 and 6. Spilak, Kelderman, Kiserlovski, Bardet, Wiggins, Barguil, Jungels, and some others could also turn in good performances on Col d'Eze. Andrew Talansky would be a natural pick on this stage, but he is beginning his season at PN, and probably doesn't have enough racing kms in his legs to dominate yet.

Ahead of the race, I am picking Richie Porte for the overall win. He is in great form and the route suits him.

Enjoy the race!

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