Friday Group Ride #12

I’m not sure why, but every time I hear someone mention Paris-Nice, I envision Omar Sharif standing on the deck of a ski chalet wearing a Russian ushanka and imploring some cream-skinned Euro princess to follow him to the Orient. There is, literally, no good reason for this association, so let’s talk about bike racing instead.

Paris-Nice, “the race to the sun,” rolls off the start line on Sunday, (American viewers can catch some of the race on Versus) the 7th. Eight stages will wind their way south from Montfort-l’Amaury (Prologue), south of Paris to the Promenade des Anglais in Nice (Stage 7). For the big pros who hope to compete in the Grand Tours later in the season, Paris-Nice serves as the first coveted win.

Last year, the clear favorite, Alberto Contador, blew up on Stage 7, gifting the race to his Spanish compatriot Luis León Sánchez. It was, to date, really the only sign that Contador is not a robot.

Interestingly, the French anti-doping organization AFLD will NOT be working with the UCI on Paris-Nice this year, after AFLD director Pierre Bordry accused the UCI of favoring Lance Armstrong in 2009. UCI head Pat McQuaid didn’t appreciate the accusation, so the AFLD has been pushed aside. All very mature and professional, as usual.

Historical notes: Sean Kelly is the king of Paris-Nice having won seven straight titles between 1982 and 1988. Also, of note, during the 2003 race, Kazakhstan’s Andrei Kivilev died due to head injury sustained in an accident. His death prompted the UCI to mandate the use of helmets.

So who will win?

Contador, as the mostly undisputed top stage-racer in the world, is favorite, but León Sánchez and his Caisse d’Epargne teammate Alejandro Valverde have to be considered as well. In addition to that crack (not a drug reference) Spanish contingent, Quick Step’s Sylvain Chavanel, Cervelo Test Team’s Heinrich Haussler, Garmin’s Christian Vande Velde, Liquigas’ Roman Kreuziger, HTC Columbia’s Tony Martin, Radio Shack’s Levi Leipheimer, Saxo’s Fränk Schleck are all riders to watch.

Some, like Haussler and maybe Martin, will be looking more for stage wins, but this is a race where a big stage victory can shake up the GC.

So let’s hear it? Who are you picking? Who are you pulling for? And why?

But of course, even before we get to Paris-Nice, we have what will hopefully become one of the legendary classics—Montepaschi Strade Bianche, better known as the Eroica. While most of the talk lately has been about who is ready for Paris-Nice, Garmin-Transitions Ryder Hesjedal, who has twice finished in the top 10 on this event, has cited it as a big priority for his spring.

Previous winner Fabian Cancellara will be back and last week’s winner of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Juan Antonio Flecha, who has indicated Paris-Roubaix is among his goals, will both be lining up.

So who’s your call?

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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20 comments

  1. Champs

    If Contador feels like winning, I think he will. A solid prologue will put him in the top 5, and then he can take the overall on Stage 4′s Cat. 1 finish. The balance of the race is more selective than decisive, and very few would doubt that El Pistolero can mark wheels all the way to Nice.

  2. howard h

    Your comments about lasting associations with Paris-Nice remind me of my own. It’s FVB in a dreary, light snowy mag photo, from what must have been his breakout year. I had great admiration for his style, and typifies for me the 21st century PRO rider, too bad it also includes the sordid underbelly of same. RIP Frank
    HH

  3. randomactsofcycling

    I’d back Leon Sanchez for a big year in 2010. He showed good form at the TDU (as did Valverde) and will surely have improved since then. I admire how he improves incrementally each year. So my money is on Luis Leon Sanchez for Paris-Nice, with the dark horse being Samuel Sanchez.
    As for ‘the Eroica’: what a fantastic addition to the calendar! This race will hopefully continue to attract more of the big one-day riders each year. I’ll pick an outsider – Allan Davis. He’ll be primed for the classics and it’s about time he pulled a win out of the bag.

  4. Robot

    I think Contador is going to win this. He needs to prove that Astana can do the work, so he will. I’m pulling for Sylvain Chavanel, but even Chavanel knows it’s going to take an act of god.

    For the Eroica, I’m going to pick the guy who flats the least. Someone light. I’m pulling for Evans.

  5. souleur

    Great ride this week, I look forward to it each friday!

    Something in my gut just says that Contador isn’t going to win the race to the sun…not sure why, but something is there.

    I do like Chavanel this go around. This race suits him, I think he is wearing a lot of pride, and I think he can do it. So will see.

    However, nobody’s gonna give it away, so I will take interest also in Haussler, who could really dice it up, and I will also be very interested in our homeboy Vande Velde, I will be interested in seeing his form now injury free thus far and gain a look at hopes later.

    Flecha’s win at Het Nieuwsblad was great, but I think he will wait until later single day pushes. And Fabian, my favorite, I think will make a good show, but I am not looking for a repeat. I would love to see the man win later in spring however!

    I think it would have been nice if lance had made a showing….IMO

  6. SinglespeedJarv

    The Eroica has again proved it’s greatness. Great to see Rogers back on form.

    As for P-N. Contador is almost a shoe-in, and he’s proved he doesn’t need huge support, but does he have the team? Chavanel is obviously going to be up for it and the French teams have had a great start to the year. Also it’ll be interesting to see what Gilbert can do in a stage race and there is bound to be a Sky rider up there, Gerrans?

    Can’t look much past Contador.

  7. Champs

    It occurred to me that Leipheimer is a known quantity, but Tiago Machado is a serious dark horse candidate who could be this year’s Riccardo Riccó. Bruyneel would love to stir up a little Iberian rivalry and fears of another multi-headed threat come July.

    1. Padraig

      We may begin to associate “dark horse” with “future doping scandal.” I hope not, though.

      The fact that nearly everyone has conceded that P-N is Contador’s to lose shows he has emerged as THE dominant rider of the peloton. I don’t much care for the “there for the taking” acquiecence. I hope the other guys fight like crazy. I wonder if Levi wants this now that Cali has moved.

  8. James

    My sentimental choice in Paris/Nice is Chavanel but it would be nice to see Christian Vande Velde and Garmin win a stage race outside of Missouri! Logic, however, dictates that one choose Contador to take the race mostly so he doesn’t have to endure anymore Lance tweets!

  9. cboss

    When Contador has something to prove, it is pretty much over.
    Screwing the pooch last year by letting himself bonk in the final stages was a real lesson for the young AC. Not to mention losing toi his childhood friend LLS. I think Caisse D’espargne will also do some work to help him.
    #1 AC, #2 Valverde, #3 LLS.

  10. Big Mikey

    Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see how Contador won’t win PN if he’s on form. Almost noboday can climb with him (and only a few can TT with him apparently), and the race is 8 days long, which itself discounts a lot of riders who might have a shot in a 3-4 day race.

    I think Levi has a shot at the podium if he doesn’t have a bad day.

  11. Robot

    Well, now that Contador has taken a spill at P-N, we maybe see the difference between riding with Astana and Caisse d’Epargne. Valverde and León-Sánchez were at the front and didn’t get caught up in the crash. Contador’s team didn’t have him protected at the front. Couple of RS casualties too, Leipheimer and Horner.

    I guess this is why they race the races.

  12. Souleur

    I think levi does Padraig, but I must say, I am not so sure Levi has it in Paris-Nice.

    what do you mean by the first thing you said?? Dark horse and future doping scandal?? Maybe I am not making the associations….??

  13. SinglespeedJarv

    I don’t think Bottle has the bottle for it. Over the years he’s promised much and repeatedly either failed to deliver, or just not good enough. The only place he wins is in the States. He’s on a level with Kloden, but still seems to dream/think he can win.

    Contador, doesn’t race often, so I think he’s one of those riders who when he does take the start line you have think that the race is his to lose. Doesn’t stop the others from trying to win, although it never seemed to work against Armstrong.

    LLS has to be the obvious challenge. I was obviously waaaay off the mark with my earlier suggestions

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