Following finishes at altitude contested at La Madone d’Utelle (2016), the col de la Couillole pass (2017), the Colmiane resort (2018) or a little further away at the Montagne de Lure climb (2009, 2013), this year the pack will take part in a titanic battle on the slopes leading to the Col de Turini pass, the day before the end of the race.
With their eyes on this queen stage, the most meticulous climbers have already reconnoitred this brand new climb for the race, on which the title for the 77th edition should be decided. In training, Warren Barguil has been the quickest so far!
The col du Turini pass is the season’s first high point. Ask any rally driver, and they will tell you the same. Since the 1960’s, it has been a fixture on the Monte Carlo Rally to open the World Championships and the special stage raced on its slopes has become one of the most decisive. Indeed, the “Turini Nights” stand out as one of the most fun and atmospheric on the international circuit, despite the negative temperatures. However, this year it will be the cyclists’ turn to climb up to the pass, powered by their calf muscles and in the opposite direction to the speedsters boasting 400 horsepower. An eight-time winner of the Monte Carlo rally and a keen amateur cyclist, Sébastien Loeb has expert knowledge of the site and admits that he “definitely prefers climbing it in a car”, which means he can do it at an average speed of almost 90 kmph. On 16th March, for the queen stage of the 2019 edition of Paris-Nice, the speeds will obviously be much more moderate all along the 14.9 km climb, with an average gradient of 7.3%.
Yet, this overall topological data only tells part of the story of just how difficult this challenge will be for the riders on Paris-Nice, according to race director François Lemarchand: “It’s a very irregular climb, with very steep sections and others that are less demanding. It’s also a route with very tight hairpin bends, which makes it so spectacular for the rally. In actual fact, the hardest part at this point of the season is that the riders are not yet used to such long climbs, especially after six days of competition which are set to be intense. Will the very best climbers already be able to draw on all of their qualities by that day? You would think so, because in general they undergo increasingly better preparation for races at the start of the season, but nothing can be certain”.
Warren Barguil: “It’s harder than La Couillole and harder than La Madone d’Utelle, like a genuine stage from Le Tour”.
Speaking of prior preparation for this major battle, Warren Barguil is among those who have applied themselves to it diligently. The climber from Brittany has even achieved the best time up the climb among riders equipped with Strava timing equipment, ahead of Romain Bardet who visited the site several days earlier. “It’s important to reconnoitre it. I also did the entire approach, because we will have to tackle the Côte de Pélasque slope beforehand and in total there will be 4,600 metres of gradient during the stage,” explained the Polka Dot Jersey winner on the 2017 Tour de France. “It’s a genuine high altitude pass, because we’ll be finishing above 1,600 metres”. Well aware of the decisive status that this stage assumes, Barguil is counting on the Col de Turini to launch his season in the best possible way: “In comparison to previous years, I think it’s harder, for example, than La Couillole and harder than La Madone d’Utelle, where I’ve also ridden again recently. It’s irregular, but there aren’t many moments of respite. It’s like a genuine stage from the Tour de France”.
Naturally, all the specialists will be aiming to put their name on the roll of honour at the Col Turini, as Richie Porte did at the Col de La Couillole pass two years ago with an amazing show of strength. The Australian, who will again be riding not far from his home on the final weekend of Paris-Nice, could be in ideal shape to pick up a third title on the event. In any case, the new leader of the Trek team is not ruling anything out even if he is remaining cautious: “Seeing as I live in Monaco, the Col de Turini is one of my regular climbs at several points during the year, but not really in winter because it’s often covered in snow. It’s a fine climb and I’m glad that the battle for Paris-Nice will be taking place there. In actual fact, I think that the Col de Turini is better suited to me than the climb up La Couillole. It’s long and never easy, even if the last five kilometres are fairly regular. That said, on Paris-Nice, you never know if the pretenders for the general classification will arrive intact for the queen stage”. Clearly, Porte remembers that he was not in the reckoning for victory on the morning before the climb up La Couillole, after having lost more than 14 minutes on the second day of racing. Paris-Nice can be lost at any point during the week… and is likely to be won on the Col de Turini.
The Col de Turini on the Tour de France
The pass has been climbed three times by the pack on the Grande Boucle.
. 1948: San Remo > Cannes (L. Bobet led at the summit and won the stage)
. 1950: Menton > Nice (J. Robic led at the summit, but F. Kubler won the stage)
. 1973: Embrun > Nice (V. Lopez-Carril led at the summit and won the stage)
After three superb initial editions, Paris-Nice Challenge will be back on Saturday 16th March, the day before the professionals reach the race’s finish. This cyclo-sportive that winds through the countryside around Nice is the first major event of the season. It offers amateur cyclists the opportunity of riding along the same route as the last stage of Paris-Nice, just 24 hours before the professional pack.
Information and registration on timeto.com and www.parisnicechallenge.com