Penultimate stage could prove decisive
The 68th edition of Paris-Nice will serve up a potentially epic stage on the second to last day, punishing riders with eight classified climbs including the category 1 Col de Vence crested just over 30km before the finish in Tourrettes-sur-Loup. The climb returns to the race for the first time in eight years, but then the mountain was placed early on in a largely flat stage.
While the distance from the top to the line may allow contenders to regroup before the finish, the length of the stage, 220km, will make it difficult for anyone left behind on the climb to summon the energy to regain the lead.
It's a scenario that 1981 Paris-Nice champion Stephen Roche recounted on the LeTour.fr web site. He recounted the heartbreaking moment on the climb in the 1987 edition when he lost the leader's jersey due to a puncture on the slopes of the Col de Vence.
"It wasn't the toughness of the climb that did it. It was a burst tyre just before I reached the summit," the Irishman explained. "I had to stop at the top and wait for assistance. I then embarked on a kamikaze descent to catch up with the pack, but in the meantime there had been a split in the peloton.
"At the front, Sean Kelly, Charly Mottet and Jean-François Bernard had already started to open up a gap. I found myself out on my own trying to close the distance, but they never slackened the pace, they knew that the race had changed. I lost the lead in the overall standings, but I still look back on it as a good memory because it was a great battle. What's more, I won the final time trial stage that same afternoon, in great style."
Roche, who's son Nicolas will be contesting the race with the AG2R La Mondiale squad, tipped the Col de Vence to be one of the decisive points before the final stage to Nice.
"There's no doubt that any of the favourites who are slightly weaker will get left behind at the Col de Vence. It's a really tough climb and you need extremely good legs to tackle it. This means it's possible to make a difference on this stretch, because it's a sustained effort."
His son trains in the region often, and is quite familiar with the climb - something that will be an advantage on the tour's longest stage. "He has recently realised the importance of checking out a road in advance to ensure there are no surprises during a climb. Not just because it lets you familiarise yourself with the route, most importantly it puts you in the right mindset for the race. However, I don't want to put any pressure on him by setting him a mission on this climb."
AG2R-La Mondiale for Paris-Nice: Maxime Bouet, Tadej Valjavec, Cyril Dessel, Nicolas Roche, Christophe Riblon, Julien Loubet, David Le Lay, Dimitri Champion