In the special context of the protection against the propagation of the coronavirus, a series of measures have been taken to protect the riders and staff involved in Paris-Nice.
The 78th edition of the Race to the Sun will start in these unusual circumstances with an unchanged first stage around Plaisir in the Yvelines department. The sprinters field is stronger than ever with riders like Peter Sagan, Michael Matthews, Nacer Bouhanni and Elia Viviani joining Caleb Ewan and Sam Bennett among the contenders for the first yellow jersey.
For the yellow jersey to be handed in Nice a week from now, in-form Nairo Quintana faces the challenger of Frenchmen Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot as well as former winner Richie Porte and his team-mate Vincenzo Nibali.
CORONAVIRUS SAFETY MEASURES
The organisers of Paris-Nice are strictly following the regulations imposed by the French health authorities regarding the Covid-19 virus. But in agreement with the teams who accepted to race in Paris-Nice, making it possible for the race to go ahead and in addition to the usual hygiene measures put in place to reduce the spread of Covid-19, the 78th edition of Paris-Nice will be introducing its own measures during the event. The gate system will be reinforced. Speakers will not be interviewing the riders on the podium at the start and riders will be asked to say in their buses as long as possible. At the end of each stage, no press conference will be held. There will be no contact between the riders and public figures on the podium at the finish line. The organisers also changed the team accommodation to make sure no more than two teams are staying in the same hotel simultaneously. During the race, riders are asked not to throw their bottles away and are advised to avoid handshakes. A special ambulance, dedicated to potential coronavirus cases, will also follow the race each day.
17 TEAMS AT THE START
136 riders from 17 teams will be at the start of Paris-Nice in Plaisir, outside Paris, on Sunday, among them a solid dozen of favourites aiming to raise their arms in Nice a week from now.
In the absence of titleholder Egan Bernal, only one former winner will be at the start, Australia’s Richie Porte, who clinched the Race to the Sun in 2013 and 2015. The Trek-Segafredo leader is teaming up with Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali, who has not taken part in Paris-Nice since 2014, the year he won the Tour de France.
In view of his current form, Colombia’s Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) is widely tipped as one of the most serious contenders to take over from compatriot Bernal, while another Colombian, Sergio Higuita, his country’s national champion and Tour winner, leads team EF Pro Cycling. Quintana will be assisted by France’s Warren Barguil while Higuita can count on the support of Canada’s Michael Woods.
“Nairo is cited as one of the leading favourites. We accept that. We came to this Paris-Nice to win it,” his team director Yvon Ledanois told paris-nice.fr
“But there are a lot of other favourites, including those who say they are not. The cancellation of other races scheduled at the same time as Paris-Nice means that every team is packed with strong riders,” he added.
French hopes are resting on Groupama-FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot, who is taking part in his first Paris-Nice, Romain Bardet, who was originally planning to ride Strade Bianche, and crowd favourite Julian Alaphilippe, leading a strong Deceuninck Quick Step outfit alongside Luxembourg’s Bob Jungels.
THRILLING SPRINTS AHEAD
Bunch sprints might be among the most exciting moments of this 78th edition of the Race to the Sun with a super-strong field of sprinters among the 17 teams at the start from Plaisir on Sunday.
Slovakia’s Peter Sagan is back on Paris-Nice for the first time since 2011. The Bora-Hansgrohe team leader made his first impression at World Tour level when he won two stages in the 2010 edition.
The three-times former world champion will battle it out with several former stage winners in the three or four stages looking suited for bunch sprint finishes. France’s Nacer Bouhanni, now riding for Arkea-Samsic, won stages in 2014 and 2016, Germany’s John Degenkolb took one in 2014, Australia’s Michael Matthews clinched one in 2015 while Sam Bennett, now with Deceuninck Quick Step, raised his arms three times in 2017 and 2019.
Italy’s Elia Viviani (Cofidis) has yet to win a stage in the Race to the Sun, having finished second twice in the past, like Australia’s Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal).
Among the other sprinters to watch are Sagan’s team-mate Pascal Ackermann of Germany, Italy’s Giacomo Nizzolo, (NTT Pro Cycling) and France’s Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept).
PINOT AND BARDET PLAY DOWN THEIR CHANCES
AHEAD OF PARIS-NICE
French favourites Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet are tackling Paris-Nice this Sunday with mixed ambitions, their chances hampered by an average start to the season and by the change of schedule imposed by the coronavirus epidemic.
“On paper, I’m one of the favourites, but we’ll see in Nice on Sunday,” Pinot told a video press conference.
“My goal is to leave Nice with a smile on my face. I must above all boost my confidence in the last weekend,” he said.
But the Groupama-FDJ team leader, aiming at becoming the first Frenchman to win the Race to the Sun since Laurent Jalabert in 1997, picked in-form Colombian Nairo Quintana – winner of the Tour de la Provence and Tour des Alpes Maritimes – as the man to beat.
“From what I saw in February, Quintana seems a class above the rest. If he goes through the first stages without any problem, he is the number one favourite, by far,” he said.
“Personally, I don’t really know where I stand. I’m not going to lie, I’m not in the condition I was expecting to be in. In my last race, Haut Var, I was not exceptional up Mont Faron. It was disappointing.”
Romain Bardet, who was planning to race in Strade Bianche before the Italian event was cancelled because of the coronavirus situation, made it clear Paris-Nice was not a goal in itself.
“I consider myself as just a late addition to the team. Pierre (Latour) remains the leader and I will try to find my place in the team and see how it goes,” he told journalists by teleconference.
“It’s good to be able to race for eight days. I’m going to take it day by day without making plans and remain flexible. It would have been a real problem not to have any race days before tackling my preparation for the Giro,” the Ag2r-La Mondiale team leader said.
French chances in this 78th Paris-Nice also include Deceuninck Quick-Step’s Julian Alaphilippe, with a stage finsihing in his hometown of St. Amand-Montrond, Warren Barguil, who will team up with Quintana for Arkea-Samsic and Guillaume Martin, riding for Cofidis.
RIDING INTO THE FUTURE
Special operations have been scheduled on this Paris-Nice. In each stage, riders will have three designated areas for their waste recovery (before and after the feed zone and roughly 20 km before the finish). Environment and the preservation of biodiversity being a priority, the BIOTOPE research office has been working with Paris-Nice since 2011 to determine the impact on Natura 2000 (European network of protected natural areas) zones. This year, 28 such areas in 13 French departments feature on the race route. Moreover race organisers wish to play a part in the promotion of cycling in daily life, especially with the Ateliers du Tour (Tour Workshops) making it possible to learn how to ride a bike, how to repair a bike and to receive advice on security. Some 6,500 diplomas were handed in those workshops on the 2019 Tour de France. Ateliers du Tour will be featured on Nice’s Promenade des Anglais inside the Paris-Nice village.
Friday, March 13: 2 to 7 pm
Saturday, March 14: 8 am to 6 pm
Sunday, March 15: 9:30 am to 4:30 pm