Paris-Nice organiser ASO has confirmed two-time winners Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) and Richie Porte (BMC) as the marquee names for this year’s edition of the race, which gets underway with a 6.1km prologue in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on March 6.
Contador has not participated in the Race to the Sun since he claimed his second overall win back in 2010, and preferred to ride Tirreno-Adriatico in each of the past three seasons. The Spaniard also won Paris-Nice in 2007 and placed fourth overall in 2009.
After starting his 2016 campaign in impressive fashion with victory atop the Alto de Malhao at the Volta ao Algarve last week, Contador will line out as one of the favourites for final overall victory in Nice, and he will form a redoubtable double act with Rafal Majka.
Although last year’s winner Richie Porte was a low-key performer at the Tour of Oman last week, the Australian was already a winner on the Willunga Hill stage of the Tour Down Under in January. Porte has made Paris-Nice one of the primary targets of his early season, though he will surely rue the absence of the concluding Col d’Èze time trial this time around. Porte will be joined by Rohan Dennis and Philippe Gilbert in a strong BMC line-up.
Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) was impressive in finishing second at the Tour of Oman, and the Frenchman will be expected to be to the fore on the most demanding stage of this year’s Paris-Nice, the penultimate leg, which concludes atop the 15km climb of the Madone d'Utelle.
Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) is another rider who showed up well on the harsh slopes of Green Mountain last week and, like Bardet, the Dutchman has singled out Paris-Nice as one his main targets for the early months of the season.
Andrew Talansky, second overall in 2013, will be joined in a solid Cannondale outfit by new arrival Pierre Rolland, while Geraint Thomas will lead the line for Team Sky, with Mikel Nieve in support. Home interest will be provided by Thomas Voeckler and Sylvain Chavanel, reunited in the colours of Direct Energie this season.
After years where Tirreno-Adriatico appeared to have the greater pulling power, there is real depth to this year’s Paris-Nice field, with Rui Costa, Louis Meintjes (Lampre-Merida), Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo), Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha), Eduardo Sepulveda (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal) and Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) all chasing high overall finishes.
A platoon of Classics favourites, led by Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep), Lars Boom (Astana) and man of the moment Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) will also be on hand at Paris-Nice.
The slate of top sprinters will include the aforementioned Kristoff as well as Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep), André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) and Arnaud Démare (FDJ).
Although the traditional Col d’Èze time trial does not feature, the route to this year’s Paris-Nice is a particularly challenging one, with the peloton due to tackle dirt roads on stage 1 to Vendôme, before a puncheur’s finale at Mont Brouilly two days later.
Stage 5 brings the race up the lower part of Mont Ventoux as far as Chalet Reynard before a rippling run-in to Salon-de-Provence. The penultimate day has no fewer than seven categorised climbs, including the final ascent to La Madone d’Utelle, while the last stage is a rugged one in the hinterland of Nice, with the Col d’Èze the final obstacle before the drop to the finish line.