“It’s clear that Fränk [Schleck] and Andreas [Klöden] are the two leaders, and along with Andy [Schleck], I’m the fourth protected rider,” Monfort told Le Quotidien. “After that, on our team we also have Linus Gerdemann and Jens Voigt, who are both capable of going in a winning break. So that makes six riders capable of appearing on the GC. Our team could be a Tour de France team…”
Monfort feels the nature of the route of this year’s Paris-Nice may offer some pointers for what is to come in July. While the Col d’Eze time trial and the rolling stage to Mende appear to be the decisive stages, he warned that every day would require vigilance.
“Above all it will be a good practice for the Tour from a tactical point of view,” he said. “You’ll have to know how to surprise. You’ll have to be smart at the precise moment when the race breaks up. You’ll have to know how to take the right decision and stay ready, because the right decision will have to be taken in a split second.”
“You can plan around [the Mende and Col d’Eze stages – ed.], but it’s a mini Tour de France and that’s what’s very interesting. You could get caught out in echelons on Monday’s stage or by the uphill finish on Tuesday. Looking at it close-up, you have the impression that it could all kick off every day.”
The Belgian spends a sizeable portion of the year based on the French Riviera, and Monfort is very familiar with the Col d’Eze. He reckons that the uphill test will favour time triallists rather than pure climbers.
“I did it race condition two weeks ago. I think it’s going to be a time trial that suits rouleurs more than climbers. [Bradley] Wiggins and [Tony] Martin will be good. I think our leader Andreas Klöden will be up there too. You’ll be going up it at 27 or 28 kph, so it’s not something for a pure climber.”
While Monfort expects the time triallists to be to the fore in the Race to the Sun, he was less convinced by Alejandro Valverde’s credentials. The Movistar rider has won three races since he returned from suspension for his part in Operacion Puerto at the beginning of the year.
“I’d see it more for someone like Wiggins, who I think will put more time into his rivals in the time trials than Valverde will do at Mende, even if he has started this season very strongly.”