The 'Race to the Sun' is the first major stage race of the World Tour season in Europe. A strong field has lined up for the 74th edition of Paris-Nice stacked full of world class sprinters and a range of top GC riders and exciting puncheurs.
Always a solid early season indicator for the season's grand tours; this edition will be no different. The parcours differs slightly from last year's edition. This year's final stage is a 141km stage featuring six categorised climbs. Vastly different to last year's 9.6km mountain time trial won by 2015 race winner Richie Porte. Expect to see the teams of those still vying for the general classification to make a move early in the final stage if there is to be a change of leader on the final day.
The GC Contenders
Two time winner of the race Alberto Contador returns for the first time since 2010. Contador leads a strong Tinkoff team and will have young gun Rafal Majka at his side to assist in his quest for a third Paris-Nice crown. He faces some formidable competition including fellow two time champion and 2015 winner Porte. The 31-year-old moved from Team Sky to BMC at the end of 2015 to release the shackles of a star studded Sky roster. Porte will be keen to emulate last year’s performance and continue his solid start to life at BMC after a runner up finish at the Tour Down Under in Australia.
Contador and Porte will have fierce competition in Geraint Thomas who rode a courageous 2015 Tour de France as Chris Froome’s first lieutenant. Thomas will be determined to start his stage racing campaign off with a strong performance to enhance his stage racing credentials within team Sky. Frenchmen Romain Badret and Pierre Rolland, American Andrew Talkansky and Dutch 2015 Veulta a espana revelation Tom Dumoulin will all be vying for the title.
Badret is the great French hope for this year’s Tour de France again. Speaking to letour about Paris-Nice Badret said: "I've had my fair share of disappointments because Paris–Nice isn't a race for pure climbers." Speaking with optimism about this year’s edition Badret said: "But I've got the feeling things will be a bit different this year, it's rather encouraging."
One of Britain’s future grand tour hopes Orica Green Edge’s Simon Yates will be one to watch for a top five or even podium in the GC. One of the exciting youngsters in the pro peloton, Yates finished 5th in the Criterium du Dauphine last year.
Sprinters ready for Milan San Remo
There are a host of sprinters lining up in this year’s edition of the race including some of the best in the world Alexander Kristoff, Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel and last year’s points classification winner Michael Matthews.
Following a disappointing 2015 plagued by injury and illness Kittel will be looking to continue his hot early season form following five wins and the overall classification victory at the Dubai Tour.
Kittel will not be racing the season’s first monument Milan San Remo. For many other riders the next weeks racing will hopefully provide confidence heading into MSR. Last year’s runner up and 2014 winner Kristoff and last year’s 3rd place getter Matthews will be fighting for the top step in Italy come March 19. Both me will be confident of a stage win in Paris-Nice.
Stages 1 and 4 may not be simple bunch sprints as there are climbs littered throughout the parcours. This provides an opportunity for the puncheurs to prevail. The likes of Phillipe Gilbert, Tony Gallopin and Michael Albasini to name a few are sure to attack causing havoc among the sprinters teams.
The 2016 edition of Paris-Nice boasts a field comprising more depth than the last few years and this ensures another exciting edition to kick off the European stage racing season.