Paris-Nice – first big stage race of the year – kicks off on Sunday March 6, and offers the first really serious chance for Grand Tour specialists to stretch their legs.
Last year’s winner, Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank), has elected to miss this year’s race in favour of taking part in the Tour of Murcia. His non-start leaves the race open for a new name to be added to the list of winners.
Here we rate the chances of the main contenders taking part in this year’s race, plus we take a look at the chances of the British riders lining up for the ‘Race to the Sun’.
Paris-Nice concludes on Sunday, March 13. For our guide to the key stages, team list, British TV guide and more, please read our Paris-Nice 2011 Big Preview>>
Frank Schleck (Luxembourg) Leopard-Trek
Runner-up in 2009, Schleck could win this race if he wants to. Instead, the Luxemburger may opt to get some good racing miles in his legs at this early stage of the year, Also, with brother Andy riding the Tirreno-Adriatico, Frank could well look like a lost sheep.
Luis-Leon Sanchez (Spain) Rabobank
The 2009 winner has not finished outside the top five in Paris- Nice since 2006. With a certain other Spaniard running scared from non-Spanish races, Sanchez has a great opportunity to triumph once again.
Samuel Sanchez (Spain) Euskatel-Euskadi
Like a fine wine, the other Sanchez to boast a good record in Paris-Nice is getting better with age. However, with his performances against the watch remaining distinctly average, the Euskatel rider may have to settle for a top ten finish at best.
Sylvain Chavanel (France) Quick Step
Coming off the back of a disappointing weekend in the Belgian semi-classics, Chavanel will want to make amends on home soil. Several of the stages scream out as being ideal for the all-rounder, although overall ambitions will – like many others – be hampered by the curveball time trial.
Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan) Astana
Everyone’s favourite Kazakh is back riding the Paris- Nice for the first time since 2005. Whether or not the 2002 and 2003 winner has the legs or the form to triumph again remains to be seen, but you’ll probably see him having a dig or two throughout the week.
Nicolas Roche (Ireland) Ag2r-La Mondiale
A solid tenth place here last year, along with top 15 placings in the Tour and Vuelta show that the 26-year-old is rapidly coming of age. Maybe not one of the big favourites for the race, but the Irishman is capable of a top five finish.
Richie Porte (Australian) Saxo Bank-Sungard
Having already raced in the Tour Down Under, Porte may well have the form to take a stage win.
Levi Leipheimer (USA) RadioShack
Third overall at the Vuelta a Andalucia at the end of February shows the veteran American has some good form for a top ten finish here.
Also watch out for…
Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank), Roman Kreuziger (Astana), Rein Taaramae (Cofidis), Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), Xavier Tondo (Movistar), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervelo)
Bradley Wiggins, Geraint Thomas and Jeremy Hunt are the trio of Brits riding the race for Team Sky. Having only raced on the road for six days in 2011, it will be interesting to see how Wiggins rides, particularly in the time trial.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Thomas beat him, particularly as the Welshman recently competed in a tough Tour of Sardinia, as well as the Manchester Track World Cup event.
And with their aim to win more week-long races this season, Wiggins may take a backseat and help the Australian duo of Simon Gerrans and Michael Rogers.
Dan Lloyd is also riding, and it is likely that he’ll be working for his Garmin-Cervelo team mate Heinrich Haussler on the flatter stages early on.
Paris-Nice 2011: Related links
Paris-Nice 2011: The Big Preview