Paris-Nice will celebrate its 75th edition by heading higher than it ever has before, with a summit finish on the Col de la Couillole, at 1,678m, billed as the standout stage on the 2017 route, which was unveiled in Paris today.
The parcours, which offers opportunities for the sprinters on the first three days before becoming a more GC-oriented affair, also features an uphill time trial on Mont Brouilly, which was set to make its debut this year before heavy snow saw it scrapped.
The race will eschew its habitual final-day finish on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice in respect of those who lost their lives in the terror attack of last July, when a lorry was deliberately driven into crowds, killing 86 people. The race will instead culminate on the Quai des Etats-Unis, slightly further down the coast towards the headland.
The race has often started with a prologue, but this year will kick off with a criterium race in Bois d’Arcy in the Yvelines area on the outskirts of Paris. The peloton will rack up 148.5 kilometres before the likely bunch sprint for the line. The sprinters will also come to the fore on the following two stages, which take the race south to Amilly and Chalon-sur-Saône, respectively.
Stage 4 is where the general classification battle will come to life, with the only race against the clock of the 2017 edition taking the riders up Mont Brouilly – the 3km climb that was meant to make its debut in the race last year on a road stage. The time trial is 14.5km long and is benign until the road starts to kick up in the final three kilometres for the climb, which averages 7.7 per cent and features ramps of over nine per cent in the final kilometre. The climb is shorter, but steeper, than the Col d’Eze, which has been used for time trials in previous editions.
The sprinters should be slugging out once again – and maybe for the final time – on stage 5 to Bourg-de-Péage, before three decisive stages in the south of France.
The first is a 192km leg from Aubagne to Fayence, featuring no fewer than six categorised climbs, and riders will be on the rollers in the morning since the climbing begins from kilometre zero with the 9km first-category ascent of the Col de l'Espigoulier. There are 100km to wait until the next two climbs, but they’re soon followed by a double ascent of the first-categeory Col de Bourigeille, which forms part of a finishing circuit. After the second descent, the stage packs a punchy finish with the line positioned 1.3km up the climb.
The next day is a record-breaking one for the Race to the Sun as the Col de la Couillole takes the race to higher ground than it has ever visited before. The 15.7km climb, which averages 7.1 per cent, is one of the toughest summit finishes in the race’s history and, in a grueling final 60km, is preceded by the first-category Col de Saint-Martin, which was used on the 1975 stage to Pra Loup when Eddy Merckx was dropped by Bernard Thévenet.
The final stage, starting and finishing in Nice, follows a familiar format and provides a finely-balanced parcours where, depending on the GC situation after the previous stage, the race can be won or lost.
The stage starts out slightly differently to last year, but then follows the same path, with the climbs Côte de Levens, Côte de Châteauneuf, Col de Calaison, Côte de Peille and, finally, Col d'Èze, before the run-in to Nice. Last year saw Alberto Contador spring an ambush in a bid to wrestle the yellow jersey off the shoulders of Geraint Thomas, but the Team Sky rider held on to claim the overall title by four seconds.
The traditional finish on the Promenade des Anglais will be moved along the coast to the Quai des Etats-Unis “in respect of the memorial period declared by local authorities” after the terror attack of last July.
Paris-Nice 2017 stages
Sunday 5th March, 1st stage : Bois-d’Arcy > Bois-d’Arcy, 148,5 km
Monday 6th March, 2nd stage : Rochefort-en-Yvelines > Amilly, 192,5 km
Tuesday 7th March, 3rd stage : Chablis > Chalon-sur-Saône, 190 km
Wednesday 8th March, 4th stage : Beaujeu >Mont-Brouilly, 14,5 km (ITT)
Thursday 9th March, 5th stage : Quincié-en-Beaujolais > Bourg-de-Péage, 199,5 km
Friday 10th March, 6th stage : Aubagne > Fayence, 192 km
Saturday 11th March, 7th stage : Nice > Col de la Couillole, 177 km
Sunday 12th March, 8th stage : Nice > Nice, 115,5 km