A tight, exciting GC race
One of the defining characteristics of recent Paris-Nice editions has been just how fine the margins have been at the top of the GC.
Each of the last three editions have been decided by a mere four seconds or less, with last year’s top-five all finishing within 16 seconds of each other.
For 2019, the organisers have stuck to the formula that has made Paris-Nice one of the most reliably exciting races of the season – namely, a time trial sandwiched between a series of days for sprinters and puncheurs, culminating in a penultimate mountain top finish stage and an intense, hilly finale.
Stage six’s mountain top finish will be the Col du Turini, a new climb for the race and one that promises to be destructive, clocking in at 15km of irregular gradients, featuring some stretches at over 10 per cent and an average of 7.3 per cent.
Stage seven, meanwhile, is a replica of last year’s stunning finale of attacking racing and fluctuating fortunes – with six climbs crammed into just 110km, it’s exactly the kind of parcours to encourage more excitement.
Simon Yates bids for glory
Simon Yates wins Paris-Nice stage seven in 2018. Photo by ASO/Alex BROADWAY
Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) was the rider to lose out on last year’s hectic final stage, narrowly conceding the yellow jersey by just four seconds to Marc Soler after the Movistar rider mounted a successful long-range attack.
Since then Yates has matured considerably, winning multiple stages at the Giro and the overall at the Vuelta to become recognised as one of the world’s best riders.
He now returns to Paris-Nice hoping to make amends for last year’s near miss. Surprisingly, the Vuelta was the first and remains the only stage race victory in Yates’ career, despite numerous top five in many of the most prestigious WorldTour events.
He does nevertheless look like a top favourite for the overall prize at Paris-Nice, especially after the exceptional form displayed last week to win a stage at the Ruta del Sol.
Sky, Movistar and Astana
Three teams stand-out in terms of the strength of their rosters brought to Paris-Nice.
Marc Soler returns to defend his title, and will ride alongside the fearsome climbing Movistar duo of Richard Carapaz and Nairo Quintana – the latter of whom typically has great form at this stage of the season, but has usually displayed it at Tirreno-Adriatico (which he skips this year despite winning in 2015 and 2017).
Astana have been the on-form team of the season in stage races, and again look like a huge force to be reckoned with, as Tour Colombia winner Miguel Angel Lopez leads with considerable support from the likes of Luis Leon Sanchez and the Izagirre brothers.
And finally, Team Sky has such a superb record at this race, winning the overall classification in five of the past seven editions, that even in the absence of Geraint Thomas (and probably Chris Froome) they should not be underestimated. Michal Kwiatkowski finished second in his one previous appearance here back in 2015 but, given the difficulty of stage six’s final climb, Egan Bernal may represent their best chance for another overall success.
A longer time trial than usual
One small variation from recent editions is the length of the individual time trial, which, at 25.5km, is the longest to feature in the race since 2011.
That year, Tony Martin won both the stage and the overall, and other similar specialists against the clock who can hold their own on the climbs have a chance to replicate his success – especially given how the mostly flat parcours should enable them to maximise their advantage over the purer climbers.
This would be good news for Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), who is a better time triallist than all of the aforementioned overall contenders, but the team announced this week that he would not be racing.
He had been due to start in Paris-Nice, but due to illness suffered earlier in the season he has been forced to change his schedule, and will be riding Volta a Catalunya instead.
Others who could also lay the foundations for overall victory in the time trial include Bob Jungels (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) – who’s on great form having just won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne – Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin), while the likes of Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) may see their hopes evaporate.
A competitive field of sprinters
Sam Bennett wins stage 12 of the 2018 Giro d’Italia (Sunada)
The start of the year’s Paris-Nice looks like a real treat for sprinters, with three flat stages in a row all likely to end in bunch finishes.
Consequently, a top field of fastmen are set to assemble in France to contest those stages.
Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) and Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) are set to resume hostilities from the UAE Tour, where each claimed a stage. Their rivals from that race Elia Viviani and Fernando Gaviria are opting for Tirreno-Adriatico instead, but will be replaced by their respective Deceuninck-QuickStep and UAE Emirates teammates Fabio Jakobsen and Alexander Kristoff.
Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) will be hoping continue a run that has seen him claim the opening road stage in each of the past three editions of the race, but may have to cede favourite status to Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma), who looks in explosive sprinting form.
Stages four and six will likely be too hilly for the pure sprinters, so expect them to be competed for by punchier riders like Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana), springing all-rounders Michael Matthews (Sunweb) and Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) as well as breakaway specialists like Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal).