Defending champion Sergio Henao will share leadership at Team Sky with Wout Poels at Paris-Nice. The pair will be backed by a strong climbing line-up of David de la Cruz, Sebastian Henao and Diego Rosa, with Ian Stannard and Dylan van Baarle providing the manpower for the flatter stages.
Henao won last year’s Paris-Nice by just two seconds over Alberto Contador, who made a concerted effort to break the Colombian on the final stage. Henao was 40 seconds back on Contador at one point, but a determined chase into Nice helped him to retain his race lead by a slender margin. De la Cruz, riding for Quick-Step Floors at the time, won the stage and denied Contador the vital seconds he needed to win the overall classification.
This season, Henao has got off to a good start with victory at the Colombian national championships and fourth place overall at the inaugural Colombia Oro y Paz stage race. Poels has been coming into form, winning a stage at the Ruta del Sol and taking second place overall, eight seconds behind Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal).
Team Sky directeur sportif Gabriel Rasch says that the reduction of team sizes has played a part in going to the race with two general classification contenders.
“They will be joint leaders and I think we have a good chance. Wout is hungry for some results for himself and, obviously, Sergio won it last year,” said Rasch. “Going from eight-man teams to seven, I think it’s good to have more options. We had a debate about how many flat guys to take and this is what we came down to.”
The opening stages of the 2018 Paris-Nice will be for the rouleurs and sprinters with a time trial on stage 4 before the serious climbs come in the latter part of the race. While the important stages are stacked in the second part of the race, Rasch says that the team will have to be careful of crosswinds in the first half. Last year saw Richie Porte (BMC) lose out massively in early wind-affected stages.
“The second stage is flat, heading south all day, so depending on the wind it could be a wild day, like last year,” Rasch said.
“The guys will get their first taste of the climbs on stage three and then there’s a hilly time trial on stage four. Stage five has a pretty hard final lap around Sisteron, with narrow short climbs, and the last three stages: six, seven and eight, are all tough. The last day is pretty similar to previous years too - short, but hard around Nice.”
Team Sky has a strong record at Paris-Nice in recent years, winning five of the last six editions. This year's Paris-Nice begins in Chatou on Sunday, March 4.
Team Sky for Paris-Nice: Sergio Henao, Wout Poels, David de la Cruz, Sebastian Henao, Diego Rosa, Ian Stannard and Dylan van Baarle.