The penultimate, and likely decisive, stage of the 2017 edition of Paris-Nice (March 5-12) will feature the highest climb that the race has ever tackled – the Col de la Couillole.

The first category climb appears for the first time in the race, and will act as the finale of stage seven. The 16-kilometre ascent peaks at 1,678 metres and is positioned at the end of the tough 177km stage right after the riders have climbed and descended the first category Col Saint-Martin.

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Race organiser ASO is hoping that the climb will provide a spectacle for fans – but warn that it may be a shock to some riders to tackle such a tough stage early in the year.

“The lack of references for this climb could wrong-foot riders,” said course designer François Lemarchand.

“Of course, I’m talking about the fact that they’ve never raced on these roads before, but it’ll also be the first time they tackle such a gruelling stage so early in the season. At the Tour de France, this would be a tricky mountain stage.”

Geraint Thomas (Sky) fights for the line on the penultimate day of the 2016 Paris-Nice. Photo: Yuzuru Sunada

Although none of the current crop of riders will have raced the Col de la Couillole, the stage is a version of the 1975 Tour de France stage from Nice to Pra Loup won by Bernard Thévenet.

French rider Maxime Bouet of the Fortuneo-Vital Concept squad has already checked out the climb in preparation for the race. Bouet says that the preceding climb and technical descent may put some riders in trouble before they even reach the Col de la Couillole.

Paris-Nice 2017 stage seven profile. Image: ASO

“I reconnoitred the first climb in my car… and I realised it’s much longer than the seven to eight kilometres it says in the profile,” said Bouet. “The valley before the climb rises gradually, at a gradient of three to four per cent, so we’ll be softened up by the time we reach the ascent. The descent is very technical. Even those who reach the summit with the leading group could get dropped and have trouble getting back on.”

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Bouet continued: “I think it could be a good idea to attack from Col Saint-Martin, either to fight for the stage win or to help a teammate towards the end. I could easily end up in this situation, for example, to support Arnold Jeannesson. This stage suits him to a T.”

Paris-Nice runs over eight stages, starting in Bois-d’Arcy on March 5 and winding its way south to Nice for the final stage on March 12. Last year’s edition was won by Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), after he fended off a last-ditch assault by Alberto Contador (Tinkoff, now riding for Trek-Segafredo).

Paris-Nice 2017: Col de la Couillole profile. Image: ASO