It was a great week of racing in France

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1. Shades of Contador from Marc Soler

Marc Soler celebrates after winning the 2018 edition of Paris-Nice (Credit: Yuzuru Sunada)

The retirement of Alberto Contador at the end of the 2017 season left a void in Spanish cycling, a void that Movistar‘s Marc Soler showed signs of filling with his superb victory in Paris-Nice.

While Contador lost this race by four seconds in 2016 and two seconds in 2017, Soler was able to employ Contador-esque tactics to successful effect as he took by far the biggest win of his career so far, and started to deliver on the talent shown by his victory in the Tour de l’Avenir in 2015.

This was a brilliant all-round performance by Soler, with the foundations laid with second place in stage four’s time trial and an eighth place on stage seven’s summit finish that showed pacing and maturity that Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors), who battled to keep with the front of the race before cracking and losing more than two minutes, could learn a lot from.

But it was the final stage long-range attack that really reminded you of Contador, with Soler latching on to a promising move with Omar Fraile (Astana) and David de la Cruz (Team Sky) with nearly 50km to go, then battling to chase down De la Cruz’s attack on the final climb and ride to the finish for victory.

2. Simon Yates is set for a big season

Simon Yates on his way to victory on stage seven of Paris-Nice (Credit: Yuzuru Sunada)

Simon Yates may have fallen four seconds shy of joining Tom Simpson, Bradley Wiggins, and Geraint Thomas on the short list of Brits to have won Paris-Nice, but his performance showed he has both the legs and maturity to move onto a Grand Tour podium this year.

Although his 11th place in the time trial may not have been against the strongest field, it did at least show that he has made some improvements in this generally weak area of his riding, but it was of course the stage win on stage seven which really stood out.

Yates timed his attack to perfection at the end of a challenging day in the saddle in wet and cold conditions in the mountains north of Nice, accelerating out of the wheel of team-mate Roman Kreuziger, before launching another move to dispatch of Ion Izagirre to take the stage win.

The final stage may not have played out as Yates had hoped (and it was arguably only the crash of both Izagirre brothers on the final descent that allowed him to stay on the overall podium), but this is still the closest yet that the 25-year-old has come to a stage race win and should give him the confidence to kick on and challenge for a podium spot at the Giro and Vuelta.

3. Paris-Nice gives a chance to lesser-known GC riders

Tim Wellens leads the chase group on stage eight of Paris-Nice (Credit: ASO/A Broadway)

With the exception of Simon Yates and David de la Cruz, none of the final top 10 at Paris-Nice had finished in the top 10 of a Grand Tour, with the Race to the Sun once again giving a chance for the lesser-known and up-and-coming GC riders to shine.

Admittedly this was helped by the abandonments of the likes of Wout Poels and Dan Martin, but it certainly proved that you don’t need to have big-name riders to produce exciting racing.

The attacking racing of riders such as Dylan Teuns and Tim Wellens really enlivened the race, the former proving particularly impressive after a strong end to last season, perhaps earning himself a shot at the general classification in the Vuelta a España in the process.

The Izagirre brothers also looked like a potent combination, with Gorka perhaps only denied victory by their crash on the final descent, and proved that Bahrain-Merida have plenty of options beyond Vincenzo Nibali.

4. French success

Rudy Molard wins stage six of Paris-Nice (Credit: Yuzuru Sunada)

You have to go back to 1976 for the last time four different French riders picked up four stage wins at Paris-Nice (and that was back in the days where the race consisted of 10 stages) so the home crowd will have been delighted with the week’s results.

Arnaud Démare’s win on the opening day may not have been much of a surprise, but the three other victories came courtesy of exciting and tactically smart racing that was a thrill to watch.

Jonathan Hivert played things perfectly as he sprinted out of the wheel of Luis Leon Sanchez on stage two, while Rudy Molard also bided his time to take victory with a late attack on stage six.

As for Jérôme Cousin’s wheel-sucking of Nils Politt on stage five, it may not have been a popular tactic with Katusha or the viewing public, but it was Cousin’s only hope of beating the powerful German and showed a victory of tactical nous over brute force, even if it may not have won him any friends in the peloton.

However bets of a French Tour de France winner in 2018 might be a bit premature with all of the victories coming from established riders in either sprints or breakaways and only one French rider, Alexis Vuillermoz, finishing in the top 10 overall.

5. David de la Cruz was an inspired signing by Team Sky

David de la Cruz wins the final stage of Paris-Nice for the second year in a row (Credit: Yuzuru Sunada)

For the second year in succession it was David de la Cruz who raised his arms in celebration on the seafront in Nice, having won a short and punchy final stage – albeit this time in the white jersey of Sky rather than the blue of Quick-Step.

After three years at Quick-Step where his talent was always evident but he never quite managed to break through, De la Cruz really seems to be relishing life at Sky, working for Henao and Poels for most of the race, before seizing an opportunity for individual success on the final stage around Nice.

Another strong week comes after De la Cruz took time trial success on the final stage of the Ruta del Sol in February to prove his future GC credentials, performances that will surely earn him a place in the team’s Giro d’Italia squad in two month’s time.