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Simon Gerrans got GreenEdge's WorldTour season off to a fine start.
Australian looks to build form ahead of Ardennes Classics
Gerrans has a solid history at the races in Belgium and Holland, finishing third at Amstel Gold last year and also boasting top 10 finishes at Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2009. For the past two seasons, Paris-Nice has laid the foundations of his assault.
"It's such a hard week of racing and as long as you come out the other side of the week healthy, you come out at a much stronger level and you sort of gain a few per cent throughout the week," Gerrans told Cyclingnews. "It's just a great stepping stone on the way to the Ardennes."
An added bonus for Gerrans is the timing of the eight-stage race, the second on the WorldTour calendar following the Tour Down Under which Gerrans won for the second time in January.
Gerrans began the new year with his new team in tremendous form to win the Australian Road Championships at Buninyong and then the general classification at the Tour Down Under with the GreenEdge line-up depleted through injury. The first two boxes of their debut season had been ticked for the WorldTour neophytes straight up. Clearly on-form, Gerrans then took his feet off the pedals slightly and only raced the Tour de Haut Var mid-February. With the Giro di Sardegna cancelled due to budgetary problems, Gerrans' program underwent a slight reshuffle but the highlight was wearing the national jersey for the first time in Europe.
"There were so many European guys that I've been racing with and against for my entire European career," Gerrans explained. "It was pretty nice for those guys to come up and acknowledge you, give you a pat on the back and say well done, you've finally won an Aussie title. As much as I was rugged up, it was nice to have the jersey on."
With the past few weeks about re-building his momentum, Gerrans is confident of being able to start Paris-Nice on Sunday "at a pretty good level" however he is clear that he is using the race to intensify his form.
"At the same time it looks like there's going to be plenty of good opportunities in the race to try and go for stage wins," he concedes.
GreenEdge sports director Matt White says there is "no interest at all" in Gerrans targeting the general classification, and the 31-year-old says that it's a decision based on where Paris-Nice falls within his program.
"Looking at the parcours I think if I was hitting it in my peak form and not using it as a stepping stone, and kept things going from Tour Down Under, I think a top 10 finish at Paris-Nice would be quite realistic," Gerrans explained.
Regardless, top 10 would be Gerrans' limit in this edition of Paris-Nice with the rouleur likely to lose enough time on stage 5 to Mende with the explosive climbers set to dominate on the Croix-Neuve as the 178.5 day nears its conclusion, and then also on the Col d'Èze time trial. He is confident however, that GreenEdge will be in the mix on most days.
"It's a pretty well-rounded team with the objective being stage wins. Obviously we don't have a GC rider but that's going to be the case for most of the season, I think. We've got some guys who are very good opportunistic riders like Simon Clarke and Michael Albasini as well as myself there who really suit this Paris-Nice parcours," Gerrans said.
"There's a couple of uphill finishes which should be quite selective and there's a couple of days which look like they're going to lend themselves to breakaways. There's probably one day there which looks like it will be a pure sprint stage – we've got Jens Keukeleire and Aidis Kruopis for that."
Robbie McEwen may have won the OCBC Cycle Singapore Criterium on Friday but the pressure is on GreenEdge to get their first win in Europe. Gerrans is confident that Paris-Nice could be the race where is happens.
"On a results front we've been pretty quiet since January but that's all part of the bigger picture," he admitted. "You can't expect to go out and win every race you go to, especially with a brand new team but I think we're pretty much on track at the moment."