A year from the race that drew an end to the first part of the 2020 season, the peloton returns to Paris-Nice, this time in less uncertain circumstances.
As ever, the eight-day race – the first WorldTour stage race of the European season –draws a strong peloton of riders, with three Grand Tour winners, five ex-world champions, four Monument winners and four Paris-Nice champions on the start list.
There's a lot of firepower set to line up in Saint-Cyr-L’École on Sunday then, meaning plenty of climbers, sprinters and puncheurs to keep an eye on during the week.
We've narrowed that 161-man start list down to just six riders who we think ought to make an impact during the race. There are Grand Tour winners looking to build form, up-and-comers hoping to make the next step, and sprinters looking to battle with the best. Read on for our six riders to watch at Paris-Nice.
Cyclingnews will have full live coverage of the Paris-Nice, followed by race reports, news and interviews. For more information on how to watch live coverage of the race, visit - How to watch Paris-Nice 2021 – live TV and streaming.
Team: Quebeka Assos
Brief: One-man team?
It's early in the season, but already it's easy to see how critical Nizzolo is for this team's ambitions for the year ahead. They have strength in depth – that was clear with their collective effort in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne – but what they lack is a world class finisher when Nizzolo isn't present.
The Italian is fundamental to the team's success – he's taken their only win so far – and his ability to mix it with the best sprinters and also survive when a few big hills or crosswinds are brought into the mix gives Doug Ryder's team a focal point that no other rider on the team can honestly provide.
The calibre of opposition in Paris-Nice is formidable with Arnaud Démare, Mads Pedersen and Sam Bennett all on show but Nizzolo has shown, including last year when he won a stage in this race, that he's every bit as competitive. For Quebeka Assos to consistently win big races they need Nizzolo.
Team: Ineos Grenadiers
Brief: Taking on Roglic
Primož Roglič is the obvious pre-race favourite. His record in week-long stage races is frankly frightening, but he represents a fascinating challenge for Geoghegan Hart and the Ineos contingent.
With Rohan Dennis, Richie Porte and Laurens de Plus in their ranks the British squad have one of the strongest GC prospects on paper, and how they approach the race will say a lot about their plans for a more expansive style of racing over the coming season. We saw glimpses of it at the Giro, and again at the Opening Weekend but Paris-Nice is a different beast entirely.
For Geoghegan Hart, the race represents the next step towards the Tour de France, and while beating Roglič is by no means a deal breaker, seeing him compete against the Slovenian will be something Ineos and Jumbo-Visma will be watching with anticipation.
Brief: A chance to step up
With the departures of both Adam Yates and Jack Haig, the Australian squad need reinforcements when it comes to their stage racing leadership. Simon Yates can't be everywhere at once, and Esteban Chaves is too inconsistent with illnesses and a lack of form often derailing his ambitions.
That vacuum leaves Hamilton with a huge chance. The team has already stated that he will lead their GC challenge in a Grand Tour and for a rider with just one three-week finish that's a lot to absorb. Before then, he can demonstrate his progression in some of the early season week-long races, with Paris-Nice the first one of those on his radar after winning a Tirreno stage last year.
At 25, Hamilton has plenty of time to develop and mature, but the eight-day experience Paris-Nice offers will give him the chance to see where is stands when it comes to leading a team in the mountains, time trials and crosswinds.
Team: Team DSM
Brief: It’s his first race since the Giro d’Italia
The 24-year-old hasn't raced since his surprise second place in last year's re-scheduled Giro d'Italia, and while Paris-Nice is not a major target in the grand scheme of things, this week will provide Hindley with further experience when it comes to racing as a GC contender.
Tiesj Benoot is in the squad too, and they've got options when it comes to targeting stage wins, but Hindley will be searching for a positive start to the year in order to take some of the early pressure off and ensure that the focus is on his future rather than last year's surprising but well deserved achievements.
He's only ever cracked the top ten in a WorldTour stage race twice, once in Polonge in 2019, and then in Italy last autumn. Completing a hat-trick here in France would be a welcome return.
Brief: A rider in form
We already know that Gaudu will lead Marc Madiot's team at the Tour de France and the signs of the added responsibility show no signs of weighing on the rider's shoulders with a confident showing in the Tour du Var followed up with a win in Faun-Ardèche Classic at the end of February.
Paris-Nice represents a sterner challenge, however, with a stacked opposition and more rugged terrain mixed in with an individual time trial that will see the Frenchman put on the back foot against some of his more capable rivals. While this might also be his Paris-Nice debut, the 24-year-old should be firmly aiming at a place on the podium.
Brief: The rider to beat
The Jumbo-Visma leader has never competed in Paris-Nice but, assuming he can navigate the tricky opening stages, the rest of the race should open up in his favour.
He's unbeaten in week-long stage races he's finished in two years, with the only discrepancy coming at last year's Critérium du Dauphiné when he crashed and left the race while in the leader's jersey. He's virtually unstoppable in races that contain a time trial and a couple of mountain stages.
Winning here is not essential given that he has so little to prove in these races and when nothing but July really counts this time around, but the Slovenian will be aiming to generate momentum after his winter break before embarking on a jam-packed spring and summer.
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