Five things we learned from Paris-Nice

Richie Porte took the overall win for Team Sky, while Michal Kwiatkowski showed what a great young rider he is. Then there's Thomas Voeckler...

Paris-Nice was a race that started slowly (literally) but really gained in pace towards the end (not literally).

The race once again threw up a few interesting storylines, not least Richie Porte’s second title in three years and a stunning one-two for Team Sky on stage four.

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But it wasn’t all about Team Sky over the race’s eight days, so here are a few things that caught our attention in the Race to the Sun (rain).

Pro cyclists do not always ride fast

The first few stages of Paris-Nice will not go down in the history books as some classic days of stage racing.

Indeed it would take a particularly harsh quizmaster to ask any of their participants who won stage two into Saint-Amand-Montrond (it was Andre Greipel, so Wikipedia tells me).

Stage one was also particularly bland. After the prologue saw riders trying to cycle as fast as they could, stage one saw the same riders doing the exact opposite.

While an average speed of 34kph is much faster than a Regular Joe like you or I could churn out over 100 miles, these boys looked like they weren’t even trying.

The problem of riding between Paris and Nice is that there’s an awful lot of flat terrain, while the hills and mountains come very much at the end of the race. That’s not to say there isn’t lovely scenery though.

Trees. There were plenty of trees. And chateaux. The television director on stage one got so bored as the riders rode past the impressive Chateau Chambord that he cut away from the racing for what seemed like an age and just ordered his helicopter cameraman to do a few laps of the 16th Century masterpiece.

Chateau Chambord - more exciting than a bike race (Photo: Eleosud/CC3.0)

Chateau Chambord – more exciting than a bike race (Photo: Eleosud/CC3.0)

The stage went on for so long that Eurosport even had to delay their coverage of the ski jumping, which was a shame…

Tommy Voeckler still has it

I’m not quite sure what ‘it’ is, but Thomas Voeckler still has it. His days of finishing fourth overall in the Tour de France are probably behind him as he approaches his 36th birthday, but the Europcar rider can still cause a bit of a stir.

Big Tommy V didn’t stand for the peloton’s antics on stage one, forming a two-man protest against the slow pace by shooting out the front in a breakaway.

Riding alongside Anthony Delaplace, of breakaway regulars Bretagne-Séché, Voeckler helped up the pace a tiny bit by riding into a headwind for a couple of hours.

Thomas Voeckler escapes with Anthony Delaplace on stage one of the 2015 Paris-Nice

Thomas Voeckler escapes with Anthony Delaplace on stage one of the 2015 Paris-Nice

It even looked like big ‘Titi’ might hold the peloton off, especially with the 40-second lead he took into the final five kilometres, but the big boys caught the pair with just 1,500m left.

Voeckler was at it again the following day; bridging the gap between the peloton and Philippe Gilbert and Florian Vachon. This time Voeckler didn’t have the legs to smash it to the end, falling back in the final kilometres.

But it’s always good to see the gurning Frenchman back at the head of the race, doing what he does best – churning a massive gear and looking like he’s in a lot of pain.

Michal Kwiatkowski is a great world champion

It’s easy to knock Rui Costa’s year in the rainbow stripes but the Portuguese didn’t set the world alight as world champion.

Admittedly, he won the Tour de Suisse, came second at Paris-Nice, third at the Volta ao Algarve and the Tour of Romandie and was fourth on the UCI’s points rankings. But it was all a bit under the radar.

In Michal Kwiatkowski we appear to have a champion who will give the stripes their fair share of publicity. Saying that, however, the Pole didn’t really get the chance to wear his new kit much because his stellar prologue put him in the yellow jersey.


Michal Kwiatkowski on stage five of the 2015 Paris-Nice (Watson)

Michal Kwiatkowski on stage five of the 2015 Paris-Nice (Watson)

Not content to lose the jersey to Michael Matthews on stage three, Kwiatkowski stole it back with a third-place finish on stage three. It wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill third-place finish either.

The Etixx-Quick-Step man saw Porte and Geraint Thomas spring up the road on the final climb and the Australian looked odd-on to take the yellow jersey from his compatriot’s shoulders.

But not to be denied, Kwiatkowski dug deep and rolled over the finish line just eight seconds after Porte. That gave the Pole the overall lead again by a solitary second and he could fold his rainbow jersey back into his suitcase for another day.

The French teams now actually have a plan

In previous seasons you could pretty much guess which teams would make up the day’s breakaway in any given race by just listing the small French teams.

There used to be a time when Jeremy Roy would be a regular in the escapes, as would a random rider from Cofidis, Europcar, AG2R La Mondiale and Bretagne-Séché Environnement.

Now that a lot of these teams have a rider capable of actually getting a result in a lot of the stages there are significantly less suicidal breakaways featuring such riders.

Cofidis’ signing of Nacer Bouhanni has given the Pro Continental team some kind of direction, allowing them to focus their efforts on dealing their speed merchant to the line near the front of the pack.

Nacer Bouhanni on stage three of the 2015 Paris-Nice (Watson)

Nacer Bouhanni on stage three of the 2015 Paris-Nice (Watson)

Equally, now that FDJ and AG2R have discovered some young talent in Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet they are also less inclined to sacrifice one of their riders up the road just to get a bit of publicity.

Bretagne-Séché are the odd ones out now, though; seemingly picking a name out of the hat each morning and consigning that poor soul to hours out in front of the peloton with Monsieur Voeckler.

Still, at least we all know what title sponsor Séché Environnement actually do now…don’t we?

It was a good week for Team Sky, despite the crashes

This time last year, Geraint Thomas was thinking about ‘what could have been’ after a crash on the penultimate stage of Paris-Nice cost him the chance of an overall victory.

This time this year, Geraint Thomas hit the tarmac again but this time he was a little luckier and went back to the team hotel with a little more skin on his bones.

Falling off is a natural part of being a bike rider, but the Welshman seems to have made a particular habit of coming a cropper at the worst times.

Geraint Thomas on stage six of the 2015 Paris-Nice (Watson)

Geraint Thomas on stage six of the 2015 Paris-Nice (Watson)

Nevertheless, a fifth-place finish for Thomas can be considered a great success, especially given that his teammate Porte powered to overall victory.

Porte gave another excellent account of himself and again put a marker down for his Giro d’Italia campaign in May. After his 2014 season was wracked by injury and illness, the Australian seems to be back to his best.

Sir Wiggins, meanwhile, got a few more kilometres in his legs before his season-defining Paris-Roubaix tilt even though he chose not to get wet on the final time trial up Col d’Eze.

Dave Brailsford’s assertion that Team Sky will become the best team in the world does not look much different to reality.