2018 Paris-Nice route includes 18km TT and intense finale

16km climb to Valdeblore La Colmiane and 110km final stage likely to be decisive

The route of this year's Paris-Nice is again expected to produce another close and aggressive race, with race organiser ASO including three stages on the exposed plains of central France, a 18.4km time trial to Saint-Étienne, a 16km climb to the finish at Valdeblore La Colmiane and a final 110km hilly stage around Nice.

The eight-day race will be held between March 4-11 and includes 27 climbs and a total distance of 1,187km.

ASO also announced that a mass-participation sportif ride, called the Paris-Nice Challenge, will be held on Saturday, March 10, covering the same roads as the final 110km stage of the professional race. French former rider Thomas Voeckler was confirmed as ASO's new race ambassador. He replaces Bernhard Hinault and will also work for French television at a number of races.

The 2016 Paris-Nice also ended in a fight for every second, with Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) holding off an aggressive Alberto Contador. In 2017, Sergio Henao (Team Sky) did the same. The Spaniard went on the attack on the final stage to Nice, but Henao limited his losses and Contador missed victory by two seconds.

ASO is hoping the lack of an opening time trial will keep the classification close again in 2018, with the sprinters and puncheur likely to fight for early success in Meudon, Vierzon and Châtel-Guyon before the overall contenders take charge

Stage 1 is short at just 135km but ends with the 1.9km, six per cent climb up to the Observatoire. The final 500 metres are apparently on a cobbled road. Stages 2 and 3 are both suited to the sprinters.

The fight for overall victory will begin with the stage 4 time trial from La Fouillouse to Saint-Étienne. The 18.4km route includes a gradual climb in the first eight kilometres, before rolling roads down to the finish.

The route then transfers south to Provence for stage 5, with the four final stages including climbing of some kind. Stage 5, from Salon-de-Provence to Sisteron heads deep into Provence, while stage 6 to Vence includes five category 2 climbs plus the challenging Côte de la Colle-sur-Loup just 10km from the finish.

Saturday's stage 7 ends with a 16km climb to the La Colmiane resort ski resort. The climb rises for 16km at a steady 6.2 per cent.

The final stage in the hills behind Nice once again offers a final chance to attack, with the Col d'Eze tackled from a different side than in the past. It means that there are just nine kilometres of fast descending before the climb of the Col des Quatre Chemins and the descent to the finish. The stage finish will return to the Promenade des Anglais overlooking the Mediterranean.

Julian Alaphilippe (Quick Step Floors), Tony Gallopin (AG2R La Mondiale), Warren Barguil (Fortuneo-Samsic), Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates), Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Simon Yates and Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) are all expected to fight for overall victory, with Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin), Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal), John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo), Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), Arnaud Démare (FDJ), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) contesting the sprints as they prepare for Milan-San Remo.

2018 Paris-Nice route:

Sunday, March 4: Stage 1: Chatou-Meudon 135km
Monday, March 5: Stage 2: Orsonville-Vierzon 187km
Tuesday, March 6: Stage 3: Bourges-Châtel-Guyon 210km
Wednesday, March 7: Stage 4: La Fouillouse-Saint-Étienne 18.4km ITT
Thursday, March 8: Stage 5: Salon-de-Provence-Sisteron 163.5km
Friday, March 9: Stage 6: Sisteron-Vence 188km
Saturday, March 10: Stage 7: Nice-Valdeblore La Colmiane 175km
Sunday, March 11: Stage 8: Nice-Nice 110km

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