AG2R La Mondiale head into Paris-Nice next week with "confidence and humility" thanks to a bumper start to the year. The French team has racked up six victories so far in 2018, with new signing Tony Gallopin taking two of those at Etoile de Besseges earlier this month.
With Romain Bardet set to race Tirreno-Adriatico, Gallopin will lead AG2R La Mondiale's general classification hopes at the eight-day race with Belgian champion Oliver Naesen and Alexis Vuillermoz as contenders for stage wins. After four years with Lotto Soudal, Gallopin joined AG2R La Mondiale over the winter and scored his first win for them six days into his 2018 campaign. The 29-year-old claimed victory in the final day time trial at the Etoile de Bessege, which gave him the overall title.
Gallopin has finished in the top 10 of Paris-Nice in each of the last four years with sixth overall and a stage win at the 2015 race his best result.
Alongside, Gallopin, Naesen and Vuillermoz, AG2R La Mondiale has assembled a team of climbers and Classics riders. Completing the line-up are Mikael Cherel, Axel Domont, Cyril Gautier and Stijn Vandenbergh.
"We can be happy with our start to the season already with six wins and 40 top 10s. It is a very beautiful beginning," said team manager Vincent Lavenu. "It allows us to approach Paris-Nice with confidence but also with humility.
"We want to shine in an important UCI WorldTour event, which is the first big stage race of the season. We will have a strong team with Tony Gallopin as our leader, but we can also count on Alexis Vuillermoz and Oliver Naesen. The latter proved at the opening of the classics that his form is very good.
"Tony joined the team over the winter, and he integrated perfectly. He is ambitious, the team is solid, a final place on the podium is definitely possible. From experience, we know that Paris-Nice is a hard race, and every day has its share of difficulties. This year will be no exception, and it will be tough right up until the last day in Nice. It's up to us to be animators in this battle."
The 2018 Paris-Nice eschews a prologue and opens up with two stages for the sprinters before increasingly harder days in the mountains and a time trial in the middle of it all on stage 4. The race will end with a loop around the outskirts of Nice, which includes the Col d'Eze – although it will be taken on from a different side to what has been used in the past. At just 110 kilometres and with the addition of the Col des Quatre Chemins, the final stage will be an action-packed finale that should prove decisive in the overall classification.
AG2R La Mondiale for Paris-Nice: Tony Gallopin, Oliver Naesen, Alexis Vuillermoz, Mikael Cherel, Axel Domont, Cyril Gautier and Stijn Vandenbergh.