Paris-Nice signals the real start to the European season if you are one of the riders who will be contending for Grand Tour glory this season.
The eight-day stage race offers a little bit of everything, with a few early sprint stages, and short time trial, and some hill and mountain top finishes which will offer the climbers their first real test of the season against battle hardened World Tour opposition.
The racing gets underway on Sunday, with Stage 1 consisting of two circuits around the town of Bois-d Arcy, for an expected sprint finish after just fewer than 150 kilometres. The fast men will get another shot for glory on stage two, as there is another sprint finish expected in the town of Amilly to complete 195 kilometres of racing on Monday.
Stage 3 offers the last chance for a mass sprint finish, with fairly flat racing until the 30 kilometre to go point, where the riders will complete the second category climb of Cote de Charrecy, which is just two kilometres long at seven per cent. It could provide the launching pad for attacks, however, another sprint is expected, mainly due to the fact that the climb is completed with still 26 kilometres of racing of the 190 to be covered.
There are many top line sprinters that will be taking the start line for this race, including John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo), Arnaud Demare (FDJ), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie), Michael Matthews ( Team Sunweb), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Andre Griepel (Lotto-Soudal) and Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors).
Expect the experienced lead out trains of Lotto-Soudal and Quick-Step Floors to dominate the television screens over the first three days of racing.
Michael Matthews, who has changed from Orica-Scott to Team Sunweb for this season, will make his debut for his new team in a race he did well in last year, where he took out the point’s jersey. However, with mostly flat finishes in the first few days of racing, I doubt he will have the horsepower to battle both Kittel and Griepel.
Day four of the race signals the start of general classification battling, with a short 14.5 kilometre time trial ahead of the riders.
The first ten kilometres of the course are completely flat; however, with 3.5 kilometres to go, the riders will hit the early slopes of the finishing second category climb of Mont Brouilly. The climb is three kilometres at 7.7 per cent, which will offer the perfect opportunity for the general classification men to make early time gaps on their rivals.
Being the first major stage race on the World Tour calendar, there are a plethora of quality Grand Tour riders wanting some early season glory before focusing on preparation for the Grand Tours get underway latter in the year.
The main contenders on this stage will be Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), Steven Kruisjwijk (Lotto NL-Jumbo), Sergio Henao (Sky), Simon Yates (Orica-Scott), Richie Porte (BMC), Illnur Zakarin (Katusha), and Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors).
I will have daily previews up from Stage 5 onwards as the general classification battle heats up.