Favourites emerge for Paris-Nice

By Hedwig Kröner With just a few days to go before the start of the 66th Paris-Nice, it's difficult...

By Hedwig Kröner

With just a few days to go before the start of the 66th Paris-Nice, it's difficult not to be haunted by a sense of déjà-vu, thinking of last year's run-up to the event. Like in 2007, the winner of the previous edition will not be competing in the race; but more importantly, the ongoing feud between the Grand Tour organiser ASO and the governing body of the sport, the UCI, has been drawing a huge grey cloud of the 'race to the sun', once again.

A climax in the power struggle between ASO and UCI has been reached again: Last year, the organiser threatened to hold the event outside of the UCI calendar, with a last-minute peace agreement settling the matter just hours before the riders left the start line. This season, ASO went through on its anti-ProTour course and received the backing of the French cycling federation (FFC), which agreed to hold the event under its national regulatory framework.

The UCI, in turn, threatened the participating teams and riders with heavy sanctions if they take the start line on Sunday, which prompted an emergency call at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Two days before the race is set to take off in Amilly, the cycling family still doesn't know under which authority the race will take place and who will eventually be participating. On the one hand, teams and riders want to take part in the event and 'do their jobs'; on the other hand, however, the governing body of the sport threatens them with fines and suspensions if they do.

Politics aside, the favourites for this year's edition after 2007 defending champion Alberto Contador, wasn't invited by organisers ASO along with the entire Astana team, include Contador's former team-mate, Luis Léon Sánchez, now riding for Caisse d'Epargne. The young Spaniard has openly declared Paris-Nice to be his first season goal this year, and we know he has the legs to do it. Sánchez won a stage in last year's edition, and finished third on General Classification in Nice. He had a promising season preparation at the Tour Down Under in Australia in January, where he finished eighth overall.

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