Hard, tough, stressful, and challenging – these are words that are used in almost every description of every race on the calendar; but if there’s a single race that justifies using all these cliches and more, it’s Paris-Nice, the first WorldTour stage race of the season.
“It’s all about stress here,” said our French Sports Director Lionel Marie. “Everyone in the Paris-Nice peloton and on our squad must be ready for this. I can’t imagine a more stressful race. The Tour de France? Well, this one is certainly the preview to the Tour.”
So what makes it such a cruel test? Let’s see:
Stages: Paris-Nice features eight stages stretching over 1,235 km. Three are climbing stages (two withmountain-top finishes), four are relatively flat, and there’s an individual time trial. That’s a pretty heavy load for the opening part of the season.
Weather and conditions: It’s usually cold, windy, and wet out there on the route from central France heading towards Nice, and this year will be no different. The only reprieve is that no snow is expected. Regardless, we can expect lots of crosswinds.
Rivals: The quality of the peloton here is exceptional, with three Grand Tour winners, four past Paris-Nice winners, and five world champions. Add to that a field of top-notch, world-class sprinters. “To win a stage here will be huge,” said Marie.
This brings us to the main questions: Can we do it? If so, how?
The “how” is pretty straight-forward. Israel Start-Up Nation is coming to the race with a team built for the sprints: German Andre Greipel and his French teammate Rudy Barbier will be the designated sprinters, with Rick Zabel, Patrick Bevin, Matthias Brandle, Sep Vanmarcke, and Krists Neilands serving as a potentially powerful sprint train. “We have great guys behind us sprinters,” said Barbier. “I think we have a real chance to get a win here.”
The 14 km ITT is a flat one, and we’ve got Brandle
and Bevin with a fighting chance. The one question left is, can we also be competitive in the three mountain stages?
The mountains will be where our Latvian Krists Neilands gets his chance to shine. Although he is not a pure climber, Krists is a rider that can be there when the selection is made. “Krists will be our GC man,” explained DS Marie. “If he can get a top-10 here, it will be a great accomplishment.”
Krists: “Maybe I cannot go head-to-head with the best climbers here, but I feel I can do something in one of the stages [the last one suits him well] and I will just go day-by-day as the GC man, plus helping our sprinters get a win.”
And a word (we would be remiss to not acknowledge it) about racing under the cloud of Corona. Last year, Paris-Nice was the last race to start in Europe before the crisis derailed the season, although the race had come to a close a day earlier. This time around, the Corona bubble rules are all in place and we have every reason to believe that the race will reach Nice.
Paris-Nice: March 7th to 14th
ISN Sports Directors: Lionel Marie, Rene Andrle
- Rudy Barbier
- Rick Zabel
- Andre Greipel
- Patrick Bevin
- Matthias Brandle
- Sep Vanmarcke
- Krists Neilands