Five things we learned from Paris-Nice 2016

Geraint Thomas won his first WorldTour stage race at Paris-Nice, but his performance wasn't the only talking point of the past week

Geraint Thomas can beat the best

Geraint Thomas on stage seven of the 2016 Paris-Nice

Geraint Thomas on stage seven of the 2016 Paris-Nice

This isn’t necessarily something we learned last week, but it’s something that was reinforced last week. Geraint Thomas battled with one of the best stage racers in history and came out on top to prove he belongs at this level of the sport.

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While he also beat Alberto Contador in the Volta ao Algarve, the Portuguese race was Contador’s first of the year and a win would have been little more than a bonus. At Paris-Nice, though, there’s no doubting that the Spaniard was looking to win the overall title, with his ride on stage six attempting to put him in the yellow jersey.

But Thomas rode better on Saturday to take the race lead and beat Contador over the line, leaving it up to El Pistolero to attack for the win on the final day.

It looked for a few minutes like Thomas had cracked on the Col d’Eze while Contador sped down the descent, but once he summited the climb it was clear that the race was not over.

The descent, while not particularly technical, was very fast and Thomas could rely on teammate Sergio Henao and Lotto-Soudal’s Tony Gallopin to help him back to the Contador escape.

Team Sky say this is the next step in Thomas’s evolution into a Grand Tour leader and from what we saw last week it’s likely that he will be a very strong one.

Marcel Kittel may not be in the great form we think he is

Marcel Kittel and Tony Martin in 2016 (Watson)

Marcel Kittel and Tony Martin in 2016 (Watson)

Marcel Kittel started his time with Etixx-Quick Step in pretty good fashion – winning the Dubai Tour and taking two stages in the Algarve to prove that he was back from his horrible 2015.

But in Paris-Nice the German went missing, never finishing higher than 65th in three bona fide sprint stages.

Over the gravel of stage one he was in the front group until the last lap of the finishing circuit and finished 88th. The following day he couldn’t follow the pace and finished 12 seconds down on the winner Michael Matthews.

He was four minutes down on the fourth stage, won by Nacer Bouhanni, and was dropped on the ascent of Mont Ventoux in the following day’s stage and rolled home 17 minutes down.

With the Giro d’Italia likely to be his first Grand Tour of the season in May, Kittel will have wanted a better showing in the French race, especially with his rivals getting a step on him in the two WorldTour races in the last week.

The Extreme Weather Protocol still needs a bit of work

Fumiyuki Beppu and Greg Rast after stopping on stage three of the 2016 Paris-Nice (Watson)

Fumiyuki Beppu and Greg Rast after stopping on stage three of the 2016 Paris-Nice (Watson)

It was excellent that the third stage of Paris-Nice was cancelled because of snow, it was just a shame that it took so long to actually call it off.

According to those at the race, it was pretty obvious that there was snow falling at the feed station and that the roads would be treacherous.

The UCI’s Extreme Weather Protocol states that organisers and teams must meet before the stage in order to call it off or modify it, which apparently didn’t happen.

Eventually it was abandoned at the 100km mark, leaving riders sheltering in nearby houses, soigneurs asking locals for jugs of hot water and a logistical nightmare for the organisers.

Start and finish towns pay a lot of money to host races, so it’s not always in the best interest of the organisers to cancel a race. Tirreno-Adriatico got into a similar dilemma on Sunday – cancelling a stage because snow was forecast, but the snow never turned up and the race could have gone ahead.

There’s progress, but still no definitive way of deciding when to race and when not to race.

Alberto Contador still has what it takes to light up a race

Alberto Contador on stage seven of the 2016 Paris-Nice (Watson)

Alberto Contador on stage seven of the 2016 Paris-Nice (Watson)

The two big riders retiring at the end of the season are determined not to go out with a whimper: Fabian Cancellara won Strade Bianche in true Spartacus fashion last weekend and Contador was up to his old tricks at Paris-Nice as he nearly pulled off a remarkable come-from-behind win.

Trailing Thomas by 15 seconds going into the final stage, Contador and Tinkoff got two men up the road in the breakaway before the Spaniard made his attack to join them 50km from the finish.

This looked for all the world to be the decisive move of the race, but Sky buried themselves to get back in contact with the escaped group.

But throughout his career Contador has not let a problem like this put him off, so he was back dancing on the pedals up the Col d’Eze, where he distanced Thomas a few times and then finally got away over the top.

In his younger days Contador might have powered down the descent and along the Promenade des Anglais to seal the win, but a younger Thomas tracked him down.

Michael Matthews could make a decent stage racer

Michael Matthews on stage one of the 2016 Paris-Nice (Watson)

Michael Matthews on stage one of the 2016 Paris-Nice (Watson)

It’s tough to make too many conclusions of Michael Matthews over the full eight days of the race, given that it was his first time pinning on a race number in 2016, but for the first five days he looked unbeatable.

Not many people backed him to win the opening prologue, especially with someone like Tom Dumoulin in the field, but the Australian took the yellow jersey and refused to let go of it.

A second stage win came his way on day three when Bouhanni impeded his path and he claimed top-fives in the first five stages.

He blew up a bit on the mountainous stage six, finishing 20 minutes behind the stage winner, but with a bit more racing under his belt he could have stuck around in the top 10 to the end.

Matthews made it over Mont Ventoux in one piece and came third on the stage, and there aren’t many tougher climbs than that in week-long stage races.

Orica-GreenEdge are spoiled for stage racing options these days, with the Yates twins, Esteban Chaves and Simon Gerrans, but another option never hurts.