A whole different story

The 76th edition of Paris-Nice, which will take place between 4th and 11th March, will be whetting the appetites of ambitious pretenders to the crown such as Dan Martin, Tejay van Garderen or Esteban Chaves, who will be attempting to put an end to the domination of Team Sky, represented by title holder Sergio Henao. The Race to the Sun could also smile on combative French riders: Julian Alaphilippe, Tony Gallopin and Warren Barguil are not setting themselves any limits. As for Nacer Bouhanni and Arnaud Démare, they will be concentrating on the stages for the sprinters, but will have to battle with Kittel, Kristoff, Greipel and Groenewegen…

Each start to the season throws up a batch of uncertainties, raises new questions and gives opportunities to hitherto unknown riders or riders reaching maturity. Indeed, very often Paris-Nice is the stage on which the first impressions are either confirmed or swept away. In this respect, the 2018 vintage is open to a renewal of the ranks, even if Team Sky will be lining up with the title holder Sergio Henao, who started the season with a victorious defence of his Colombian Champion’s jersey. This year, neither Alberto Contador nor Richie Porte will be barring his way, but this also means that the many pretenders for victory will be all the more uninhibited. Having failed to climb higher than the 3rd step on the podium in 2017, Dan Martin is perhaps about to start a season that will be his biggest challenge to date, in his new UAE-Emirates jersey, whilst the rocket otherwise known as Esteban Chaves could finally take off this year, as hinted towards with triumph on the Tour Down Under. It will be no surprise to see Tejay van Garderen taste victory on the time-trial in Saint-Etienne and boss an event that he has never completely tamed (5th in 2012 and 4th in 2013), or to see Jakob Fuglsang (3rd on the Tour of Valencia and 4th in Andalusia) dominate the competition at the resort of Colmiane in a similar manner to his winning ride on the Dauphiné at the Plateau de Solaison. Similarly, Ilnur Zakarin could perhaps seize the opportunity to win a stage race that has escaped him since the Tour of Romandie in 2015, if he shows as convincing form as on the day of his victory at the Madone d’Utelle (in 2016).

However, these new circumstances also hang on the capacity of the French riders to battle with the best on a route that seems well-suited to the potential of certain Gallic leaders. For example, the finish on the stage into Meudon looks like an invitation for Julian Alaphilippe to make a break for the first yellow jersey of the week. A stage victory on his first race this year in Colombia gives him at least legitimate hopes of doing so, as well as improving on a final 5th place obtained in Nice last year. This will also be the goal of Tony Gallopin (6th in 2015), who has shown himself to be on especially good form in his new colours of AG2R - La Mondiale, winning the Etoile de Bessèges and coming 2nd on the Tour of Provence. Also with a brand new jersey, Warren Barguil will be counting on the final three stages of Paris-Nice to launch a season worthy of his performance on Le Tour in 2017. Lilian Calmejane may also be looking to convert the polka dot jersey won one year ago into a yellow one.

French hopes in the general classification will be accompanied by the prospects of their two best sprinters, Nacer Bouhanni and Arnaud Démare, who should find opportunities to express themselves in Vierzon (stage 2), Chatel-Guyon (stage 3) and why not in Sisteron (stage 5). Both men will be looking toward the Via Roma in San Remo, which will also be in the sights of other former winners on Paris-Nice such as Sam Bennett, Marcel Kittel, André Greipel or Alexander Kristoff. There will not be enough winners’ bouquets for everybody.

22 teams: the main participants (as of 22/02/18)

Australia

Michelton-Scott: Chaves (Col), S.Yates (GB), Trentin (Ita)

Bahrain

Bahrain-Merida: G.Izaguirre, J.Izagirre (Spa)

Belgium

Quick-Step Floors: Alaphilippe (Fra), Viviani (Ita)

Lotto-Soudal: Wellens, De Gendt (Bel), Greipel (Ger)

France

AG2R La Mondiale: Gallopin, Vuillermoz (Fra), Naesen (Bel)

Groupama-FDJ: Démare, Molard (Fra)

Cofidis, Solutions Crédits: Bouhanni, Laporte (Fra), Jes.Herrada (Spa)

Direct Energie: Chavanel, Calmejane (Fra), Taaramae (Est)

Team Fortuneo-Samsic: Barguil, Pichon, Périchon (Fra)

Delko Marseille Provence KTM: Di Gregorio (Fra), Siskevicius (Lit)

Germany

Team Sunweb: Oomen (NL), Bauhaus (Ger)

Bora-Hansgrohe: Bennett (Irl), Kennaugh (GB)

Great Britain

Team Sky: Ser.Henao (Col), Poels (NL), Lopez, De la Cruz (Spa)

Kazakhstan

Astana Pro Team: Fuglsang (Den), LL. Sanchez (Spa), Valgren (Den)

Netherlands

Team Lotto NL-Jumbo: Boom, Groenewegen, Gesink (NL)

South Africa

Team Dimension Data: Slagter (NL), Pauwels (Bel), Berhane (Ery)

Spain

Movistar Team: Soler (Esp), Sepulveda (Arg)

Switzerland

Team Katusha Alpecin: Kittel (Ger), Zakarin (Rus)

United Arab Emirates

UAE Team Emirates: Martin (Irl), Kristoff (Nor), Costa (Por)

USA

BMC Racing Team: Van Garderen (USA), Drucker (Lux), Roche (Irl)

Team EF Education First Drapac Cannondale: Rolland (Fra), McLay (GB)

Trek-Segafredo: Degenkolb (Ger), Mollema (NL), Pantano (Col)

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