A scenario free of the likes of Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali and Alberto Contador creates opportunities for other riders to grab a big result in what is still perceived as one of the most prestigious week-long stage races.
Here we run through the main contenders and rate their chances of success.
Tejay van Garderen, BMCWith his first class time-trial ability, two Tour de France top five finishes and young age, van Garderen is arguably the man most likely to challenge the elite four of Froome, Contador, Nibali and Quintana. With that quartet at Tirreno-Adriatico, van Garderen has a chance to prove himself as the best of the rest in Paris-Nice, with the advantages of good form in his favour following second overall at the Tour of Oman, and two time-trials that suit him well.
Richie Porte, SkySince winning Paris-Nice back in 2013 Porte’s career hasn’t progressed quite as smoothly as expected, and the Australian appears to suffer from inconsistency in three-week grand tours. But second overall at the Tour Down Under and fourth at the Volta ao Algarve this season prove that he’s still one of the best at week-long stage racers, and will be one of the men to beat at Paris-Nice. Also watch out for Sky’s Geraint Thomas – the team will likely assess Porte and Thomas’s riding during the race and back the stronger performer.
Rui Costa, Lampre-MeridaAnother rider who has struggled to make the transition from week-long stage races to grand tours is former world champions Rui Costa – despite winning three consecutive Tours de Suisse, his highest Tour de France finish remains a mediocre 18th. Paris-Nice suits him perfectly though, and he’ll be confident of going one better than last year’s second place.
Romain Bardet, Ag2rAg2r’s stellar 2014 was kicked off by overall victory at Paris-Nice, and although the man who won it for them – Carlos Betancur – will not defend his title, the French team still possesses a very strong roster with Tour de France stars Bardet and Jean Christophe Peraud. The latter has yet to get into form, but Bardet looked very strong going up the Alto de Hazallanas at the Vuelta a Andalucia, where he finished third behind Contador and Froome.
Rafal Majka, Tinkoff-SaxoMajka has now finished in the top four in each of the last three stage races he has participated in, including the Tour of Poland he won last summer. With a route that plays to his strengths expect the 25-year old to continue that run at Paris-Nice, as he continues to stake his claim as the best young rider in the peloton.
Andrew Talansky, Cannondale-GarminIt was Talansky who pushed Porte the closest back in the 2013 Paris-Nice, and the American continued to show an affinity for French races at last year’s Criterium du Dauphine where he ambushed both Froome and Contador to win the overall. This, however, will be his first race of the season, and he has not finished in the top ten on any day’s racing since crashing out of the Tour last July, so may need time to build his form.
Michal Kwiatkowski, Etixx-QuickStepThe newly-crowned road race world champion has already been showing off his rainbow stripes with second overall at the Volta ao Algarve behind Geraint Thomas. He stands a chance of going one better at Paris-Nice, but tends to struggle in mountains as long as the Col d’Eze and the Croix de Chaubouret.
Ones to watch
Andre Greipel, Lotto-Soudal
Despite not riding as much of the early season as he usually does, Greipel did manage to win a stage win at the Volta ao Algarve. He’ll face a much tougher challenge of repeating that success at Paris-Nice, however; in the bunch sprints he’ll be up against the on-form Alexander Kristoff and John Degenkolb, and home favourites Nacer Bouhanni and Arnaud Demare.
Bradley Wiggins, Sky
Bradley Wiggins will be back in the rainbow jersey for the opening and closing time-trial stages of Paris-Nice, but his main concern will be building his form towards April’s Paris-Roubaix. The short prologue does nevertheless look well-suited to him, and a rematch versus Tony Martin (Etix-QuickStep) ought to make for some exciting viewing.
Tom Dumoulin, Giant-Alpecin
Another to watch during the time-trials will be Worlds bronze medallist Tom Dumoulin, although he may be eyeing a challenge for the overall too. There were signs last year that the 24-year old could add to his abilities against the clock by developing into a very good climber as well – the Col d’Eze stage may be a perfect hybrid for him.