Tag Archives: Paris-Nice

The 2017 season so far: Big names come to the fore

It has been a long time since I last wrote anything on here. It has been a busy winter. And anytime I have gotten some free time I’ve spent it on my bike rather than writing about bikes. On that end I’ve cycled over 1,500km since the turn of the year, way more than in any other winter before, and I am feeling good for it. A lot of it on the turbo trainer, but a mild winter here in Southern Ontario has meant I have gotten out on the road too. I have a couple of races in April and I decided to actually get ready for them. So far so good, though I could use to cut back on some junk food!

That isn’t to say I haven’t watched my share of cycling though. Indeed I have watched as much this winter and early spring as ever before. Some of the racing has been spectacular and there has been a lot of talking points. There is little point in me going into them all in detail right now, you’ve likely seen them yourself, but I do want to address some. So where to start?

To tell the truth, the early season races in January and February feel much like pre-season training races to me. Yes they are important to those that win them, and they can be fun to watch, but you get the sense many use them to find form. They can be to cycling what spring training games are to Baseball. We don’t remember all the winners and the results don’t have a real baring on the rest of the season. On that end, here in late March already, I won’t go writing about it. In the eyes of many fans, especially those in Belgium, the real season begins at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. That was won this year by Van Avermaet with Sagan winning  Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne the next day. Starting as they mean to go on.

And then again, in a way you could also say that this pair of races is the pre-season for the northern classics. Once complete the riders disappear south again to race the Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico by way of Strade Bianche. The riders go to seek form before returning north later in March. So when does the ‘real’ season begin? I suppose it depends on the rider. Some might say it starts at the top of the calendar, Down Under. Some will say once they return to Belgium via the Middle East. And others will tell you the Race to the Sun, Paris-Nice is the true traditional start to the season.

That Race to the Sun this year was true to its word. Strong winds and hard rain hammered the early stages and it wasn’t until they got down near beautiful Nice that the sun come out. Sergio Henao of Team Sky won it, fending off yet another late Contador charge. Over in Italy at Tirreno Quintana won overall with a little more ease.

And so everyone then turned up in Milan for the first monument of the year: Milan-San Remo. And what a race it was. Lately this race has resulted in a large group sprint and it’s often seen as the sprinters monument, but not so this time. Not when you have Peter Sagan out to rip a race to shreds. Sagan has a decent sprint, and he could have waited, but where’s the drama in that? It was on the Poggio, that final climb in which he made his move. The Poggio is not the toughest climb in the world, but with 290km in the legs, it likely feels like Alpe d’Huez. A huge surge put him clear and only Michal Kwiatkowski and Julian Alaphilippe could react. Neither of them done a lot of work on the front in the run in to San Remo, though nor should they have. It was Sagan who forced the issue, it was his race to win or lose. And so it proved to be, like E3 Harelbeke last year, that Kwiatkowski managed to come around Sagan and take the sprint win. He added this one to his victory at Strade Bianche a two weeks before.

So much then for a Sky team in crisis with a set of riders distracted by the so-called scandal engulfing the team back in the UK. That idea was suggested by the vultures on this story in a bid to further undermime the position of Sir Dave Brailsford. It was kind of put to bed with Kwiaktowski taking two one-day wins, Thomas a stage win and Henao a GC victory in the space of 14 days.

And it was here then, in San Remo, that the peloton split in two. The climbers heading into Spain for the Volta a Catalunya and Pais Vasco, and the strong men going north again to Belgium. It would be a week of racing in which riders from the respective home nations dominated.

In Spain, Valverde was a level above in what became a Spanish sweep of the podium. He finished a minute ahead of fellow countrymen Contador and Marc Soler. On his way to victory, Valverde took three stage wins from seven and was second in another. At 36, Valverde would appear to be in the form of his life.

But if you think it was a good week for the Spaniards, take a look back up at Belgium. In the three classic races up there this past week, they attained seven of the available nine podium places. Yves Lampaert won the Dwars Door Vlaanderen in a race lit up by his team-mate Philippe Gilbert who settled for second. At E3 Harelbeke, Gilbert once again settled for second after igniting a race in which Van Avermaet went on to win. Then this weekend at Gent-Wevelgem, Van Avermaet done the double by putting one on Sagan with a late attack from a reduced group. Indeed it was a triple for the Belgian following his win at Het Nieuwsblad, becoming the second man ever to win these three races in one season.

All Belgium will hope this form continues next weekend with the big one: The Tour of Flanders. Greg Van Avermaet must go in as a favourite, though Phillipe Gilbert should be right on him. Still, despite his short comings in actual wins of late, it would still take a fool to write off Peter Sagan. It’s a real shame that Michal Kwiatkowski, a man who looks made for any of the five monuments, will be missing from this one. Still, it should be one of the races of the year.

The season is very much underway now!


Last year I ran some awards for the rider of the week and month. I will do that again this year, though only monthly. As such, and being a bit behind, here’s my picks for the first three months:

January: Richie Porte
February: Rui Costa
March: Greg Van Avermaet

Also last year I ran the King of Spring classification. I took 14 major spring classic races from Omloop to  Liège and used the Formula One points format of 25 for a win down to 1 for 10th place with each race counting equal. With seven races now in the books, the standings sit as follows:

1. Greg Van Avermaet – 99 pts
2. Peter Sagan – 76 pts
3. Michal Kwiatkowski – 50 pts
4. Philippe Gilbert – 36 pts
5. Oliver Naesen – 33 pts


Cancelled stages and dramatic results

The Paris-Nice and Tirenno-Adriatico are two races in two countries over a similar length that bring out the same kind of contender. In one aspect you have the Grand Tour favourites who use one of the two as a preparation race for their form ahead of the Giro or Tour, and on the other you have single day classics men who use it as a late conditioner ahead of Milan San-Remo. Often we look at who is racing which and then check to see which of the two the last five San-Remo winners, or Tour of Flanders winners, rode in.

In the case of Milan-San Remo, four of the last five winners came out of Paris-Nice whereas at Flanders, four of the last six winners came from Tirreno-Adriatico. To be fair the Tour of Flanders likely comes a little far out for either of these events to have any real baring on its outcome, but I bring it up because of how Tirreno-Adriatico played out this year.

In a big upset to the form guide, the winner of Tirreno-Adriatico was Greg Van Avermaet, a man that nobody would have expected to win the overall of, but who came good thanks to the cancellation of the queen state that would have seen the climbers shine. That isn’t to suggest he’s now the likely winner of either upcoming Monument, though he remains a contender and many feel that with the cancellation of that mountain stage it was the ideal preparation race for Milan-San Remo. If he does pull it off, he’ll become the first man since Fabian Cancellara in 2008 to win MSR after winning Tirreno but more dramatically should he win the Tour of Flanders he’ll be the first man since Roger De Vlaeminck in 1977 to do the Tirreno/Flanders double.

Vincenzo Nibali had hoped to ensure that no such outcome would come to fruition. The Italian won’t be anywhere near Flanders (though we know he can ride the cobbles and I’d love to see him give it a crack, but alas) but had been one of the favourites to win at Tirreno before his targeted stage was removed. The whole episode resulted in a sideshow of complaints and criticism that completely took the shine of the stages that remained and left many debating cycling’s extreme weather protocol rather than Van Avermaets big win. Nibali felt it should have been raced, and his coach Paolo Slongo went as far as to drive the mountain to prove the snow that seen the stage cancelled was no longer there. He then opined that Nibali might skip the Giro if such quick cancellation of stages due to snow became the norm, focusing his training for a run at the Tour instead. Irishman Matt Brammeier then read too much into it and associated Slongo’s remarks as Nibali’s and went off on a rant at the three Grand Tours winner on Twitter. It was all a bit silly.

It’s a fine balancing act when it comes to cancelling stages. Nobody wants the riders to risk their own safety, but then again so much of the sport is about racing through the extremes. Nibali himself won an epic stage in the Giro just a few years ago coming through a blizzard in the pink jersey. Clearly he felt up for more of the same. Cancelling the stage too early is a risk because conditions could easily improve, but likewise you cannot simply move the finish of stage of a race this big so easily. In a way I feel for the organiser: Had they went ahead and it turned into a blizzard, they’d have been criticised by some. As it was, Slongo showed the finish to be OK, and they were criticised by some. I think in general though the riders were happy enough to stay in bed, and who can blame them?

They cancelled a stage of the Paris-Nice too, though in a different manor. They at least started the days racing before deciding that the amount of snow on the road was too much, but by then it had already gotten dangerous for those on the road, hence the each-way-you-lose scenario facing organiser’s. That stage however was much less dramatic to the overall outcome by comparison to Tirreno, though perhaps Alberto Contador might disagree. He finished second to Geraint Thomas by just four seconds in what had been a thrilling duel between himself and the Welshman over the final couple of days. Thomas once again proving his metal in these week long races (to go with his overall win at the Volta ao Algarve). Unlike the Tirreno-Adriatico winner, Thomas is in transition away from the single-day classics, and in doing so has really begun to prove himself to be the ideal week-long stage race winner come GC Super Domestique replacement for Richie Porte at Team Sky, and we saw what he could do at last years Tour without this depth of climbing preparation. That said it won’t be all stage races and this coming week he will attempt to become the first man to do the Paris-Nice – Milan-San Remo double since Laurent Jalabert in 1995. Without getting into the murky waters of how, Jalabert went on to finish 4th in that same years Tour de France, just a few minutes behind his own team-leader of the time, Alex Zülle.

Rider of the week:

And so to rider of the week of 7-13 March and I’m going to go with Thomas over Van Avermaet, if only because the cancelled stage wasn’t as crucial to the overall outcome at Paris-Nice and Thomas, who didn’ win a stage unlike Van Avermaet, fought a brilliant fight on the hills to keep Alberto Contador at bay.

Welcome to the classics


Last week we had two great stage races in the Paris – Nice and the Tirreno – Adriatico and while the Paris – Nice especially has plenty of prestige and history around it, to me it feels like the real cycling season is only about to begin with the Milan-San Remo this weekend. That kicks off the one-day spring classics season and over the next month we’re in for a host of great and epic one day races.

I followed both those stage races last week though I didn’t get seeing too much of it. The Paris – Nice was one in fine style by Australian, Richie Porte, and of course because he rides for Sky the usual we-need-another-Postal-team-asap crew came out to find reason to scoff at the result. Their scepticism and cynicism is completely understandable given what cycling fans have been put through in recent years but the whole thing is getting old and with no evidence with which to hold against Sky except that some doctor was employed by the team who used to administer drugs to another team in the past, it really ought to be let go.

This was all okay for a few months in the winter when there was no present day cycling to talk about, but now that the 2013 season is here and underway, I could really do with browsing for cycling news on the web and on twitter without having to read from some droning non-stop with insinuations either about riders today or stories, theories and speculation about drugs in the sport twenty-odd years ago.

This winter allowed me the chance to air my own grievances around the whole Armstrong saga, to read a couple of books on the subject, and then bury it in the memory bank before looking ahead to a year of good racing. In order not to hear about it every day when I wanted to be hearing about how the latest race was won, I completed an almighty purge of my Twitter following list.

The conclusion to what I like to call ‘The Winter of a History of PEDs in Cycling’ was that it was an ugly past but one in which it seemed the sinister game of doping was just a part of the game. It was sad and I encourage any past rider to come clean, but I’ve had enough with the digging. I was left sure that cycling tests more often and for more drugs than any other sport on the planet and given the stance of fans, sponsors, media and even now many young pros in the peloton, it’s seen as more unacceptable a practice than in any other sport. Will cheats still try to cheat when money is involved? Of course they will, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that while I’ll sometimes remain suspicious about some and about some performances, I feel the sport is trying to catch them, and has enough in place that if you cheat, there’s a good chance you’ll be caught eventually. If you don’t, well, that’s unfortunate for us, but it’s a bi-product of cheating … some will get away with it; I just know they’re being well tested.

So enough about that garbage. I swore to steer clear from the subject until which times as a new positive test broke that represented a case in the present day world, yet I’ve just dedicated a paragraph to the subject. But I had to say something.

One we move.

While Porte was winning the Paris-Nice in style, over in Italy Vincenzo Nibali was kicking ass in the Tirreno – Adriatico while some riders pushed their bikes up climbs. Yes, there was an image from that event during one stage in which some of the climbs reached a 30% gradient that those who couldn’t go any slower while zig-zagging up the climb came to a stop and walked it. Such a sight in the modern day professional peloton is surreal. It’s hard to look away from such an image of these super-skinny, well-tanned, finely-tuned athletes pushing their bikes on a climb and not think to yourself: I know how that feels.

Nibali stole the lead from another Sky man, Chris Froome, late in the race and held on to the finish to win it. An early season psychological blow ahead of the Tour de France? Maybe it’s still a bit early, but it was interesting to see how it played out.

One man who really stood out was Peter Sagan. Last year phenom took two stage wins in the week long tour and on that big stage with those killer climbs his immense power kept him with the front men as he won the stage dropping the likes of Froome, Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans with only Nibali and Joaquim Rodriguez able to stick with him until the final three man sprint for the line.

Sagan could be a treat to watch this year. He’s clearly in peak form right now which is perfect for a man of his style ahead of these Spring classic races. There’s no reason to believe he can’t do a Philippe Gilbert 2011 or a Tom Boonen 2012 and win a handful of them. Meanwhile his ability to show he can climb reminds us that if he dedicated himself to it, honed his time-trialing a little more and his long-climbing, he could one day become a contender for a Grand Tour. That might be a ways off yet, but he’ll be great to watch this year and beyond.

So, enjoy Sunday’s Milan – San Remo if you have access to a TV showing it, or if like me, you’ll try and find a way to stream it on the web. Either way it’s sure to be an epic race and if you’re looking for one of my ever unreliable predictions, I’ll look past Sagan and give you Mark Cavendish.

The race to the sun

Sean Kelly in the Paris-Nice, a tour he dominated in the 1980’s

The call is the “Race to the Sun” though it’s officially known as the Paris-Nice. I prefer to refer to it as the “Sean Kelly Classic” given the Irishman dominated it for seven consecutive years from 1982 to 1988. It begins this weekend, it lasts eight days and it holds a little more interest for me given I was in Nice last summer for my Honeymoon and it’ll be interesting to see the race finish there as I try point out as many familiar sights as possible. Sad, but we all do it when the TV cameras show a foreign place we’ve been to before.

At first glance you might think that winning this race bodes well for your chances at the Tour de France given that three of the last six winners have gone on to cross the line in Paris in July with the Yellow jersey upon their shoulders. Floyd Landis in 2006 and Alberto Contador in 2007 and 2009. Of course, it doesn’t take much further study to quickly realise that Landis was later stripped of his title and Contador of his 2009 crown following positive doping tests which means this years winner ought to watch his step. Also the 2008 winner of the “Race to the Sun”, Davide Rebellin, has since failed a doping test himself.

Anyway, we’re in a new era now right? Tony Martin won it last year and look how badly he did in the 2011 Tour de France. He’s back to defend his crown for 2012, though if you’re looking a good man to throw your hard earned cash at look at none other than a man who has already come out his doping suspension over with, Alejandro Valverde. The Spaniard has been in fine form earlier this season what with his teary eye’d stage win at the Tour Down Under, and second place overall, and well as a stage win and overall win at the Vuelta a Andalucia.

If not him then Luis-Leon Sanchez, the 2010 winner of Paris-Nice, or someone like Levi Leipheimer. I could rattle off half a dozen more names but that still won’t necessairly make me any closer to being right. This race is wide open, it’s the first week long stage race of note of the season and for the traditionalists, this one tends to mark the true start to the European road racing year.