John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) will continue his march toward the Monuments starting Sunday in Paris-Nice, where the German sprinter says he’s ready to “put the cards on the table” heading into the Classics.
"For me, Paris-Nice is a very important race in preparing for the Monuments to come, like Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and, of course, Paris-Roubaix," Degnekolb said in an interview with ASO, the Paris-Nice organisers.
"Paris-Nice is the last opportunity to test my form with eight stages, including four sprint finishes and a super strong peloton," he said. "The training phase is definitively over. What matters now is the rigour in terms of speed and pace of the races, the final consultations with the team and the right settings for my bike… and I hope we will have favourable weather conditions."
Degenkolb won Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix in 2015, but at the start of last season he nearly lost one of his fingers after being hit head-on by a wrong-way driver during his team camp with Giant-Alpecin. After a lengthy recuperation, Degenkolb returned to competition in May and raced the Tour de France, coming fourth in two stages. He finally scored his first post-operation victory in August at the Arctic Race of Norway.
The start of this season with Trek-Segafredo started out much better for the German at the Dubai Tour, where he won stage 3 and never finished out of the top five, securing third overall. From there, he went to Portugal and the Volta ao Algarve, where he scored two more top-five finishes.
Degenkolb will find plenty of stiff competition in Paris-Nice, where he’ll line up with the 2016 San Remo winner Arnaud Demare (FDJ) and 2014 winner Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin). Fellow German fast men Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) and André Greipel (Lotto Soudal), who have six wins between them so far this season, will also be there.
"I am happy there will be such a large number of sprinters," Degenkolb said. “It is the time to put the cards on the table."
Others likely to be fighting for the sprint wins include Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida), Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo), Nacer Bouhani (Cofidis) and Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie), among others. It will be a crowded tarmac in the final few hundred metres that will require some risk tolerance for the most ambitious.
"A sprint finish is always a little perilous," Degenkolb said. "Of course I will not risk it all in the last kilometres and neither will the other guys. They also will want to cross the line as the winner, but really want to avoid an accident. To reach this goal, you have to go all in. You are not going to satisfy your ambition by not riding hard."