The 63rd edition of Paris-Nice will be held from March 6-13, kicking off the ProTour series, the UCI's new top-level racing calendar. The "race towards the sun" is an indicator of early-season form for many riders who have been testing themselves at various races in February already. This year, race organiser ASO has assembled 1232 kms of roadside from the Parisian suburb Issy-les-Moulineaux, home of ASO and French sports newspaper l'Equipe, to the final destination Nice on the Mediterranean coast, which were presented to the public in Nanterre, France on Monday.
Lance Armstrong, still enigmatic about his season's true goals, has been confirmed to make his first appearance in the European peloton this year at Paris-Nice, while two-time winner Alexandre Vinokourov will be leading the T-Mobile team on its way down south. Last year's winner Jörg Jaksche will defend the title in the colours of Liberty Seguros, while Alejandro Valverde, who won two stages at the Majorca Challenge last week, also counts as a favourite. Davide Rebellin will be team captain at Gerolsteiner, and Jens Voigt and Carlos Sastre will lead an impressively strong CSC squad at the race.
Also competing at Paris-Nice will be: Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues), Axel Merckx, Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto), José Azevedo, Manuel Beltran, Vjatcheslav Ekimov, George Hincapie, Yaroslav Popovych, José Luis Rubiera, Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery), Inigo Cuesta (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Jaan Kirsipuu (Crédit Agricole), Jean-Patrick Nazon, Mark Scanlon (Ag2R), Juan Antonio Flecha, Dario Frigo, Fabian Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo), Erik Dekker, Thomas Dekker (Rabobank), Nicolas Jalabert, Victor Hugo Peña, Robert Hunter, Floyd Landis (Phonak).
The course involves a 6.6 km prologue in Issy-les-Moulineaux, followed by a flat parcours from Etampes to Chabris, where Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) could show his sprinter qualities again after winning two stages in Qatar. Stages two and three be more difficult as they take place in hilly regions, and the last three stages will be decisive for general classification, with the ascent to Mont Faron looking particularly interesting. German Jens Voigt secured his lead at the Tour Méditerranéen on this climb last week.
With the race being officially named as part of the ProTour - the first ever of its kind within the new UCI professional road cycling circuit - all 20 ProTeams will take part, and ASO has further invited the French Continental Pro team Ag2R. However, like the other races organised by ASO, Paris-Nice is not quite a full ProTour race, as the agreement between the UCI and ASO seems to be a very diplomatic one. ASO committed to inviting all 20 ProTeams to its races, but the financial and commercial aspects of the arrangement have not yet been settled.