The route of the 2006 edition of the Paris-Nice stage race, March 5-12 was announced in Nanterre on Monday. World champion Tom Boonen will be the star drawcard for the 'race to the sun', which is traditionally the first top-level European stage race of the year.
"We wanted him to be able to display his strengths every day," said race director Christian Prudhomme of Boonen's participation in the race. There will be no long time trials in this year's event, he pointed out, and no mountain top finishes.
After a short prologue, the first stage into Saint-Amand-Montrond is definitely one for the sprinters. The race then takes to hillier country in the Beaujolais wine-growing region before crossing the Rhone valley to Saint-Etienne. Then it's back into wine country for stage 4's finish in Rasteau.
There will be mountains in the finals days, however, as stage five from Avignon to Digne-les-Bains takes in the col du Corobin, while stage six passes through Bourigaille and a short but sharp final loop from Nice to Nice takes in the col de la Porte, la Turbie, and the col d'Eze.
Although Paris-Nice organiser ASO has still not designated any of its 2006 races as being officially part of the UCI ProTour, all 20 of the ProTour teams have been invited to Paris-Nice, plus French outfit Agritubel, which has requested a wildcard for the Tour de France.
Last year's winner Bobby Julich (CSC) will be back to defend his title, along with his German team-mate Jens Voigt. Other top riders slated to take part include Erik Dekker (Rabobank), Axel Merckx (Phonak), Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), Patrik Sinkewitz (T-Mobile), Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), Christophe Moreau (AG2R), Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom) and Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux).
Prologue - March 5: Issy-les-Moulineaux (Hauts-de-Seine), 4,8 km
Stage 1 - March 6: Villemandeur (Loiret) - Saint-Amand-Montrond (Cher), 193 km
Stage 2 - March 7: Cérilly (Allier) - Belleville (Rhône), 200 km
Stage 3 - March 8: Juliénas (Rhône) - Saint-Etienne, 170 km
Stage 4 - March 9: Saint-Etienne - Rasteau (Vaucluse), 193 km
Stage 5 - March 10: Avignon - Digne-les-Bains, 201,5 km
Stage 6 - March 11: Digne-les-Bains - Cannes (Alpes-Maritimes), 179 km
Stage 7 - March 12: Nice - Nice, 135 km
AG2R, Agritubel, Bouygues Telecom, Cofidis, Crédit Agricole, Française des Jeux, Caisse d'Epargne/Illes Baléars, Euskaltel, Liberty Seguros, Saunier Duval , Lampre , Liquiga, Milram, Gerolsteiner, T-Mobile, Davitamon, Quick Step, CSC, Discovery Channel, Rabobank, Phonak