By Antonio J. Salmerón
On a six-hour, intensive training ride Wednesday, Luis León Sánchez got to thinking about Paris-Nice, which is less than a month away. He recently returned from the Mediterranean Tour, where he told Cyclingnews he "felt very well", and on his most recent ride he was accompanied by the man who introduced him to cycling, his dad, in a car. The 24 year-old was motorpacing in order to improve his time trialling ability.
Referring to the 4.6km prologue set for March 9, he said, "I hope it will be good for me to get a good position to go for the general classification." Paris-Nice is one of the first big tests on the international calendar, and it's organized by the ASO, who has omitted the Astana team from its selection. That means no Alberto Contador, last year's defending champion.
"I am very sad about that decision because as people know, Contador is my friend and my old team-mate. In addition, I was on the podium with him last year," said León Sánchez.
The 2008 Paris-Nice will again climb the legendary Mont Ventoux, which it last visited in 1987, when Irishman Sean Kelly won the race. "I am not afraid. I know this climb from last year in the Dauphiné Libèré, and the truth is that it impresses me, but it is suited to my characteristics in terms of its length and strength required," said the young Caisse d'Epargne rider.
This 66th edition of the race has a first stage conducive to those with sprinting skills. Its second day will include a few second and third category climbs, as well as the first category Col de la Croix de Chaubouret over 18.5 miles. The peloton will face more selective slopes on March 13 and the fourth stage, 176km, will rise to four third category climbs before reading the Col de la Madeleine with its 14 miles at an average gradient of seven percent - en route to the Station Mont Serein Mont Ventoux.
The final stage will depart from Nice on March 16 and will ascend the Col de la Porte, La Turbie and Col d'Eze before returning to the city for the finish after 119 miles.
Galician team-mate Oscar Pereiro will be the only Tour de France winner to participate in Paris-Nice this year, but he'll be joined by last year's second place in the Tour de France, Australian Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto). Others on the roster are Ukrainian Yaroslav Popovych (Silence - Lotto), the Italian Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), brothers Frank and Andy Schleck (Team CSC) and Italian climber Damiano Cunego (Lampre).