08-15 March 2015
After two months of racing around the world, it’s now time for the first big European race of the season. There is always huge prestige in winning Paris-Nice and even though the line-up isn’t as strong as in the Tirreno-Adriatico, we can expect a big show on the French roads towards the sun.
Unlike last year, Paris-Nice is now back to starting out with a prologue to get an early hierarchy set in the race. The 6.7 km around Maurepas won’t make big time differences between the GC riders but, in a very equal field, every second counts. The following three stages are all made for the sprinters. Stage 4 brings the first big fight between the GC contenders. No less than seven categorized climbs await the riders before taking on the last one up towards the finishing line. Croix de Chaubouret is 10 km long and its average gradient of 6.7 % will make for good show Thursday afternoon. Stage 5 and especially stage 6 are very undulating and might produce a surprise winner. The GC riders will try to save as much energy as possible before the time trial on Col d’Eze on the final day of racing. Compared to last year’s edition, this one is much more mountainous. Still, unless something truly spectacular happens on stage 4, nothing is settled before the final time trial. You’ll find profiles of all the stages at the bottom of this page.
The way I see it, there are at least five riders with an equal chance of winning Paris-Nice 2015. Instead of just mentioning a few of them, I’ll now list all five and explain what makes them top favorites.
Richie Porte: To their standards, Team Sky had a very poor season last year. They are now extremely eager to turn this around and start winning races again. Richie Porte started out this season in style, winning the Australian national time trial championships before finishing second overall in Tour Down Under, just two seconds behind Rohan Dennis. Porte won the mountain top finish after brilliant performance, which he repeated in Volta ao Algarve last month. Team Sky won the stage race with Geraint Thomas who now will be able to give back something to Richie Porte after his great work in Portugal. Porte won Paris-Nice in 2013 on a similar course and, being amongst the very best riders uphill and against the clock, it would be a surprise not to see the Tasmanian on the final podium.
Wilco Kelderman: This young Dutchman keeps on improving and impressing. He finished 7th overall in the Giro d’Italia and 14th overall in Vuelta a España last year. Kelderman is very strong against the clock and he will be a candidate for the opening prologue. However, he’s not only good in the time trials. Last year, he proved he’s not afraid of taking on even the best climbers in the mountains as well. In Ruta del Sol last month, Kelderman was unfortunately caught up in the crash on stage 1 which ruined his GC ambitions. Afterwards he finished 2nd in the time trial and 6th on both of the mountain stages. This was his first race of the year. I’m sure Wilco Kelderman will be much better shape already.
Tejay van Garderen: After finishing second overall in Tour of Oman, Tejay van Garderen is definitely one of the top favorites for this year’s Paris-Nice. He now has some hard racing in the legs and with a strong team to support him, I’m confident he’ll do very well. Van Garderen may not be the best climber or the best time trialist in the race but he’s probably in top5 in both categories, which is exactly what you need to finish on the overall podium. On the similar course in 2013, the American finished 5th overall. To me, he’s much stronger now. If he can avoid any bad luck, unlike last year where he had to withdraw on stage 1, Tejay van Garderen should be gunning for the overall win on the final time trial on Col d’Eze.
Rafal Majka: Given that this year’s route has a tough mountain top finish on the menu, Rafal Majka has to be mentioned among the favorites. He’s one of the very best climbers in the field and this is an important race for the Pole. He’s given the chance to lead the team and now, he has to prove that he’s up for the task. In his first race, Tour of Oman, he lacked a little to follow Van Garderen on Green Mountain. He came to Oman after a training camp on Teide with Alberto Contador. Now, with a bit of racing in his legs, I would be surprised not to see Rafal Majka fighting for the win on stage 4, which would make him a serious contender for the general classification as well.
Fabio Aru: To me, a Fabio Aru in top shape would be the number one favorite for this race. However, not only is this Aru’s first race of the season, it’s also a very stressful time for the young Italian. UCI wants Astana’s World Tour license withdrawn and to be honest, I was surprised to see the Kazakh team keeping their spot in the race. Anyway, Astana is in the race and in Aru, they have one of the biggest Italian stage racing talents seen in a long time. Aru finished 3rd overall in the Giro d’Italia last year, winning the big mountain stage on Montecampione before finishing 5th overall in the Vuelta a España taking two stage wins in the mountains. This year, the Giro is once again the main goal for Fabio Aru. Therefore, he has been training hard on his time trial bike in order to do well in the long ITT. However, Aru has already proven that an uphill time trial is no problem for him. If the Italian youngster can shake off the political stress surrounding Astana at the moment, he will be very strong contender for the overall win in this year’s Paris-Nice.
Given the strength of the five mentioned riders above, it would be a small surprise to see an overall podium with any other than those five riders. However, riders like Andrew Talansky, Romain Bardet, Warren Barguil, Jakob Fuglsang, Rui Costa and the Movistar duo of Beñat Intxausti and Ion Izagirre probably won’t be far off. Especially Romain Bardet has been very strong so far this year. The final time trial, however, is not in the young Frenchman’s favor. Andrew Talansky is usually good in these one-week stage races. However, this is his first race of the season. Therefore, it’s hard to say how strong he will be. If everything lines up for the American, he could easily make it onto the final podium though.
The best outsider pick for the overall podium is probably Tony Martin. The strong German had decided to focus on the one-week stages races once again. Instead of doing Tirreno-Adriatico as he has done the last couple of years, he’s now back in Paris-Nice, which he won in 2011. Tony Martin is not as strong in the mountains as he once was. However, last year, in Tour de Suisse, he proved that he’s still capable of fighting for the overall podium in these kinds of races. Col d’Eze is a very irregular climb with a couple of easy sections. On his best days, Tony Martin can take back a lot of time on this final day of racing. He’s one of the top favorites for the opening prologue and, if he can minimize his time loss on stage 4, Tony Martin will be a very dangerous outsider for the general classification. The same goes for his team mate Michal Kwiatkowski who just finished 2nd overall in Volta ao Algarve.
For other strong riders with a solid chance of making top10 or top15, look to Simon Spilak, Tiago Machado, Geraint Thomas, Romain Sicard, Simon Yates, Mathias Frank, Bob Jungels, Rohan Dennis, Luis Angel Maté and the Argentinian rider Eduardo Sepúlveda. Tom Dumoulin would be a very interesting candidate for the general classification but the young Dutchman has recently been sick. Therefore, it seems like Giant-Alpecin’s best chance of a good overall result is with Warren Barguil.
Even though we don’t have Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish in the race, the list of strong sprinters is still very long. Alexander Kristoff, Andre Greipel, John Degenkolb, Michael Matthews, Arnaud Démare, Nacer Bouhanni, Moreno Hofland, Giacomo Nizzolo, Yauheni Hutarovich, Bryan Coquard, Ben Swift, José Joaquin Rojas, Heinrich Haussler and Niccolo Bonifazio will make the sprint finishes very exciting to watch! Alexander Kristoff has proven very tough to beat in the flat finishes this season. However, both stage 3 and stage 5 end with a short uphill kick towards the finishing line. Here, we can expect yet another great fight between John Degenkolb and Michael Matthews, two of the very best riders in the world on these types of finishes. While all the mentioned riders have already been racing this year, Paris-Nice will be the first race of the season for Michael Matthews. After showing off his dance moves in the recent Orica-GreenEdge music video, it will be very interesting to see if Bling can repeat last year’s impressive performances. Personally, I would be surprised not to see him make podium at least once in this race.
The opportunistic riders will also have a chance to fight for a stage win in this year’s Paris-Nice. Therefore, keep an eye on Michael Valgren, Pihlippe Gilbert, Tim Wellens, Lars Boom, Michael Albasini and especially French riders like Sylvain Chavanel, Arthur Vichot, Thomas Voeckler, Tony Gallopin and Pierrick Fedrigo.