This weekend’s main festivities take place in France and Italy with the conclusion of Paris-Nice and the continuation of Tirreno-Adriatico. So far, the racing’s gone more or less as expected in both events: the Spanish are ruling the Race to the Sun and sprinters and breakaways have traded punches in Tirreno.
The current GC in Paris-Nice holds few surprises. Thanks to his peloton-shattering attack on La Croix Neuve in Thursday’s Stage 4 to Mende, the Astana rider leads his compatriot, Alejandro Valverde, by 20 seconds and Liquigas’ Roman Kreuziger by 25. Valverde’s teammate and defending Paris-Nice champion, Luis Leon Sanchez, sits in 4th with Euskaltel’s Samuel Sanchez tucked just behind in 5th. While seemingly indomitable, Contador’s lead is anything but assured. A 20-second deficit is not much, especially when the task of overcoming it lies in the capable hands of Valverde. With Leon Sanchez close to the lead as well, Caisse d’Epargne possesses a numerical advantage over the other favorites; they need to double-team Contador, subjecting him and his relatively weaker Astana team to a constant series of attacks. Throw Roman Kreuziger and Samuel Sanchez into the mix, and Contador’s lead begins to look even shakier—if they all ride aggressively.
Aside from the battle for GC supremacy, Paris-Nice has proven to be the coming-out party for Peter Sagan, Liquigas’ young (he’s 19!) superstar. Pavé’s been talking about Sagan as early as the Tour Down Under, where he impressed the likes of one Mr. Armstrong with several strong performances. With two stage wins this week, he seems to be this year’s revelation—a la Heinrich Haussler and Edvald Boassen Hagen.
And speaking of Haussler, he dropped-out of the race midway through Stage 4—his knee’s still bothering him, apparently. One hopes he can recover in time to do battle in Milan-San Remo and the cobbled classics, the races where he announced his stardom last year.
As for the final two stages, tomorrow’s Stage 6 features 8 categorized climbs including the 1st Category Col de Vence—although its summit lies about 35 kilometers from the uphill finish in Tourettes-sur-Loup. This will be the first chance for Contador’s challengers to earn back some time. Sunday’s final stage features three 1st Category ascents: the Col de la Porte, La Tarbie, and the Col d’Eze. Paris-Nice has been decided on the last day in the past—this year might provide a similar finale.
As for Tirreno-Adriatico, we expected a clash between breakaways, sprints, and the weather. So far, all has progressed as expected with a breakaway succeeding in Stage 1—Milram got another win from Linus Gerdemann—and sprinters finding success in Stages 2 and 3 with Tom Boonen and Daniele Bennati taking the victories. As for the overall, Bennati holds the lead by a mere 4 seconds over Gerdemann and Boonen.
Tomorrow’s stage might produce an exciting arrivo—the last 8 kilometers are quite difficult, with two ascents containing pitches over 15%. Look for a strongman to take the win, possibly a rider like Philippe Gilbert or Filippo Pozzato. Cadel Evans lurks back in 9th-place on GC; a strong finish from him could put BMC atop the podium and into an overall leader’s jersey for the first time this season. Sunday’s Stage 5 offers an interesting finish as well. The line comes 1km after a short, but sharp climb with an average gradient of 15% (it’s steepest section is 20%). This might be an even better day for the men we’ve already mentioned—if their teams can set them up well coming into final 2000 meters.
It looks like we’ll have some tough choices to make Saturday and Sunday with several options for live viewing. Overall, it will be an exciting 2 days of racing, with almost of the favorites ready to shine.
And what about you? What do you expect to see happen this weekend? Share your comments below.