My favourite race: Paris-Nice

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‘The Race to the Sun’ is about as commonly associated with the sun as the cuddly Kim Jong Un is associated with human rights – snow and heinous rain storms amidst nipple-blackening cold certainly bind more fairly to the early season race.

Paris-Nice’s ‘Sun’ moniker was a keen marketing manoeuvre played by race organisers though, as the ever-so-used pun of “Sun? What sun?” ought to generate copious race discussion.

Regardless, Paris-Nice is a beautiful race, très belle in fact, and it truly kicks the European season off in an explosion of style.

Having been won five times apiece by Jacques Anquetil, Eddie Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain, Paris-Nice isn’t green to the idea of a true cycling legend taking home its yellow jersey. Despite this, in the last three decades it hasn’t been a very good indicator of potential to win the Tour de France.

Despite the 2012 and 2007 editions, where Bradley Wiggins and Alberto Contador ended up winning both Paris-Nice and the Tour de France, we have to go back to the reign of King Merckx and his conquer of 1969-1971, where he won Paris-Nice and Le Tour on each occasion. The difference here being Merckx also won the points and mountains jerseys in 1969, mountains in ’70, points in ’71, and the overall points in ’72.

Despite this cruel and unforgiving domination, The Race To The Sun is not an accurate indicator of the same year Tour de France winner.

Another couple interesting facts about ‘The Race to Devastating Storms’:

- Ginger nut superhuman Sean Kelly once won seven (7!) times in a row.

- The first ever Frenchman to win was René Vietto in 1935, the third edition. A year later he was riding the Tour de France when his teammate and yellow jersey holder crashed and broke his bike on a decent further back than he was.

It was a while before a motorbike could let Vietto know of the misfortune, but irrespectively Vietto, who was at the point in time virtual race leader, turned around and rode back up the mountain to give his teammate his own bike.

His teammate went on to win the race and Vietto quickly became a national hero.

12 years later, in the first post-WW2 Tour de France, Vietto was leading the race for 14 stages until losing it on the final day in a time trial of (get ready for it) 139km in distance.

So there’s a taste of some history Paris-Nice holds deep within.

This year most reputable Tour de France general classification riders opted out of this year’s race, including Wiggins, Chris Froome, Cadel Evans, Contador, Vincenzo Nibali, Ryder Hesjedal and Joaquim Rodriguez.

Instead we see the younger and more pout looking bunch of Andrew Talansky, Richie Porte, Jakob Fuglsang, Jonathan Teirnan-Locke, Tejay van Garderen and Robert Gesink. Ivan Basso and Thomas Voeckler will fly the flag in the oldies-but-goodies category.

The race is bound to be close as it’s an early season climbing challenge, and as I explained previously, the true professionals just don’t climb so fast this early (mind you, I ate my words watching the Tour of Oman a few weeks back).

Porte or Gesink are my favourites for the overall, Andreas Kloden is certainly a dark horse, but I’m more excited to see Jens Voigt get excited when temperatures start hitting ‘numbness’, and heading off into some insanely lactic acidifying breakaways.

The uphill time trial of Col d’Éze too will provide light entertainment, and Richie Porte certainly has the ability there.

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