The Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) announced today the route of this year's Paris-Nice, rolling out a fresh parcours complete with two individual time trials bookending the eight-stage event.
Heading out from Dampierre-en-Yvelines to Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse on opening day, Sunday March 4, riders will face a 9.4km individual time trial, but it will be the 9.6km uphill test from Nice to the top of the Col d'Èze, which will bring in the stars for the event.
The ASO confirmed that 10 of the top 15 in last year's Tour de France have committed to racing Paris-Nice, including the Schleck brothers, Andy and Frank.
Without extended time trial kilometers, last year's champion Tony Martin may have to cede race leader's duties to his new Omega Pharma-Quickstep teammate Levi Leipheimer or Sylvain Chavanel. The team will be up against stiff competition from rival teams, including RadioShack-Nissan with the Schlecks, Astana's Janez Brajkovic, BMC with Tejay Van Garderen, as well as perennial French favourites Thomas Voeckler and Pierre Rolland (Europcar), Sky's Christopher Froome, Rabobank's former winner Luis-Leon Sanchez or Liquigas' Ivan Basso.
While the main separation will come in the final stage, the middle six stages will provide their own opportunities for the aggressors. After two relatively flat stages, first from Mantes-la-Jolie to Orléans and then one to Le Lac de Vassivière, the roads begin to undulate. Stage four to Rodez is a decidedly lumpy route with a kick up to the finish at the end of 183km, giving a good chance for a late breakaway artist to steal some time.
However, it is the following stage's finale atop the Monteé Laurent Jalabert in Mende (La Croix Neuve) - a 10.1% average grade for 3km - which will provide the first true separations on the general classification.
After a sprint-friendly stage to Sisteron, the penultimate day features the category 1 Col de Vence with 65km to go, and while it may not break up the general classification it will serve as a warm-up for the grand finale, the return of the traditional time trial up the Col d'Èze, last used in 1995.
Some of the sport's greatest champions have triumphed on this climb: Eddy Merckx, Raymond Poulidor, Joop Zoetemelk, Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche. Which new star will etch his name into history 500m above Nice? We shall find out when this race concludes on Sunday, March 11.
March 4: Stage 1 – Dampierre-en-Yvelines - Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse TT, 9.4km
March 5: Stage 2 – Mantes-la-Jolie - Orléans, 185km
March 6: Stage 3 – Vierzon - Lac de Vassivière, 194km
March 7: Stage 4 – Brive-la-Gaillarde - Rodez, 183km
March 8: Stage 5 – Onet-le-Chateau - Mende, 178km
March 9: Stage 6 – Suze-la-Rousse - Sisteron, 176.5km
March 10: Stage 7 – Sisteron - Nice, 220 km
March 11: Stage 8 – Nice - Col d'Èze TT, 9.6 km