Major World Tour teams not taking part
For this year’s Paris-Nice, it might be more significant to point out the things to not look out for.
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Although – unlike Strade Bianche – the race is still set to go ahead, fears over the coronavirus has prompted five major WorldTour teams to pull out of the race, meaning many big stars who were initially down to ride will now be absent.
The most notable absentee will be Team Ineos, who are also mourning the tragic death of sports director Nicolas Portal, and have decided to cancel all racing appearances until the Volta a Catalunya on March 23. Consequently, defending champion Egan Bernal will have to adjust his schedule leading into the Tour de France.
Two other on-form and expected overall favourites to win the overall at Paris-Nice will are also members of teams not participating. UAE Emirates’ Tadej Pogacar, who has made a sparkling start to the season with overall victory at Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and second overall and a stage win at the UAE Tour, and Astana’s Miguel Angel Lopez, who won a stage and finished on the podium at Volta ao Algarve.
The other two WorldTour teams missing include Mitchelton-Scott (meaning no participation of either of the Yates brothers), Jumbo-Visma, Movistar and CCC.
Other GC contenders
Nairo Quintana seems to be enjoying life at new team Arkea-Samsic and has started the season on fire, claiming overall victories at both the Tour de La Provence and Tour des Alpes-Maritimes et du Var. Paris-Nice will offer stiffer opposition, but the Colombian was second here last year and could go one better this time
One of the few riders to defeat Quintana this season, Sergio Higuita (who got the better of him to win the Colombian National Championships) will lead the line for EF Pro Cycling, and looks set to build upon his breakthrough 2019 season having already won the Tour of Colombia last month.
Another rider to already have an overall victory in the bag this season is Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), although his success at the Tour Down Under was six weeks ago now, so other riders will have had time to build up their form to his level. He’ll line-up alongside Vincenzo Nibali, the on-form Jasper Stuyven and world champion Mads Pedersen in a very strong Trek-Segafredo squad.
Finally, one rider yet to reach top form, but who could still pose a very serious threat, is Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ). Surprisingly, this will be the Frenchman’s first-ever appearance at Paris-Nice (he usually rides Tirreno-Adriatico instead), but this year will make the race his first WorldTour event of 2020 building up to his hotly-anticipated return to the Tour de France in July.
The battle for GC will likely come down to three key stages: the 15km individual time trial on stage four, the mountainous stage seven which finishes atop Valdeblore La Colmiane, and the frantic, short final hilly stage beginning and finishing in Nice.
Julian Alaphilippe returns
Julian Alaphilippe attracts attention wherever he races, but especially so in France, where he has become a national star, and where his return to Paris-Nice will be eagerly awaited by the public.
Aside from the relatively low-profile Drome Classic and Faun-Ardeche Classic last weekend, this will be his first race on French roads since his stunning Tour de France last July, and the first therefore since he became a bonafide Grand Tour contender.
Overall victory might be beyond him this year, however, as he struggles to find his top climbing form this early in the season. He was well off the pace in the mountainous stages of the Tour of Colombia, and ended up finishing 72nd overall – a long way down from the seventh place he managed last year.
However, we can expect him to come to life in the hilly stages. A steep climb within the final 5km from the finish on the opening stage looks right up his street, as does the undulating terrain of stage six. Even stage four’s time trial and stage seven’s hilly stage could provide chances for him to go for stage wins.
Concerns over the possible cancellation of Tirreno-Adriatico has meant that Deceuninck – Quick-Step are sending a very strong squad to Paris-Nice (Zdeněk Štybar, Bob Jungels and Kasper Asgreen have all altered their schedules to ride here instead of Tirreno-Adriatico), but Alalphilippe will be the main man.
A strong field of sprinters
Continuing the trend of last season, no one sprinter is dominating the bunch sprints this season, with many of the big names sharing the spoils between them.
The last WorldTour meet, the UAE Tour, was a case in point, with three different sprinters winning a stage each, and two of them are set to reconvene at Paris-Nice: Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) and Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe).
Ewan is back with unfinished business having twice finished second in sprints at last year’s race, while Ackermann will have to balance his personal ambitions with those of Peter Sagan, who will make his Paris-Nice debut having made a late decision to not risk riding Tirreno-Adriatico.
Elia Viviani will continue his quest to win his first race for new team Cofidis, and will again be up against his former employers Deceuninck-QuickStep who – along with Alaphilippe and their classics specialists – will also have Sam Bennett (who won two stage here last year) as part of their roster.
Stages two and three both looked nailed on for sprint finishes, while stage five could be if the bunch are able to control any breakaways over the hillier terrain.