We look ahead to next week's two big stage races
Team Sky aim for yet another Paris-Nice title
They’ve won the overall classification five times in the past six years, via an eclectic mixture of riders featuring Bradley Wiggins (2012), Richie Porte (2013 and 2015), Geraint Thomas (2016) and Sergio Henao (2017).
That means they enter the race as favourites, although this time it’s unclear which rider will be the designated leader. As defending champion Sergio Henao would be the obvious choice, but Wout Poels is also riding this year and is on good form having finished second overall at the Ruta del Sol.
Meanwhile Chris Froome will be making his 2018 WorldTour bow at Tirreno-Adriatico, where Sky have designated a similarly strong line-up that includes Geraint Thomas, Michal Kwiatkowski and Gianni Moscon.
A GC heavyweight showdown at Tirreno-Adriatico
Joining Froome at Tirreno-Adriatico will be a host of many of the world’s best GC riders.
He’ll be up against the two riders who finished behind him at the Tour de France last year, Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), as well as his main rival during the Vuelta, Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida).
And Froome will also have to reckon with former team-mate turned adversary Mikel Landa (Movistar), while among the younger generation of riders hoping to make a statement include Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and an on-form Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana).
Perhaps the most intriguing match-up however will be Froome vs Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb). The two riders didn’t face each other in any stage race last season, but this could be the first of several contests if both are able to commence with plans to ride both the Giro and the Tour.
Sprinters preparing for Milan-San Remo
With just over a week to go until Milan-San Remo, many sprinters will be using these two races to fine-tune their preparations for the race known as ‘The Sprinters’ Classic’
They’ll come up against a high-class field that also includes Mark Cavendish, hoping to have fully recovered from the concussion that forced him out of the Abu Dhabi Tour last week, Marcel Kittel, who is still without a win since joining Katusha-Alpecin this season, as well as Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott), Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) and Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida).
In terms of picking out likely Milan-San Remo winners, it might be better to study the Paris-Nice line-up – five of the last seven winners of the classic opted for Paris-Nice rather than the Tirreno.
Stages two, three and possibly five are expected to culminate in bunch sprints, and the two most on-form finishers, Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) and Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo), will be hoping to continue their good run and enhance
They will also be up against former Milan-San Remo winners Arnaud Démare (FDJ), Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) and John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo), plus Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe), who claimed the biggest win of his career here last year.
Attacking racing at Paris-Nice
Recent editions of Paris-Nice have been characterised by attacking racing, and this year’s parcours suggests the same should apply again.
With one mountain top finish (La Colmiane on stage seven) accompanied by hilly days on stages six and eight, as well as potentially GC-affecting climbs on stages one and five, there are plenty of opportunities for gains to be made.
The absence of a time trial on the final day in favour of a short, undulating hilly stage for the third year running should also enhance the excitement – in both 2016 and 2017 the GC was turned on its head with riders going for long-range attacks.
Even without the retired Alberto Contador, who was responsible for much of that chaos, there are plenty of attacking riders who should animate the race. Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) is on good form and loves to attack, last year’s third place finisher Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) will be eager to make the top step of the podium this time, Mitchelton-Scott’s duo of Simon Yates and Esteban Chaves will be a dangerous proposition riding in tandem, and we know from last year’s Tour de France how effective Warren Barguil’s (Fortuneo-Samsic) long-range attacking can be.
Time trials crucial at Tirreno-Adriatico
Repeating the pattern of recent editions, Tirreno-Adriatico will open with a team time trial and close with an individual time trial.
Stage four’s summit finish at Sarnano-Sassotetto will be the most important stage, but, with no serious climbing outside of that stage beyond a couple of punchy finishes on stages three and five, the time trials may be where riders can gain the edge needed for overall victory.
BMC Racing used their peerless strength in the team time trial discipline to place Rohan Dennis second overall last year, and even set up Greg van Avermaet for an unlikely overall victory the year before after the main GC summit finish was cancelled due to snow.
In the absence of Nairo Quintana (Movistar), who dominated the 2017 and 2015 editions through resounding victories on summit finishes, the GC may this year be closer heading into the final 10km individual time trial, which could set-up a tight, exciting finish against whichever candidates remain in overall contention.