Porte steps up for the Giro d'Italia
He may have woven last year's sorrow into silk with his two stage wins and the overall but Richie Porte has had the ability to win week-long races for a number of seasons, so his Paris-Nice ride can be summed up as recovery rather than a revolution or reformation.
Of greater significance is the debate over whether he has the necessary capabilities to lead a team in a Grand Tour. That in itself is a topic that has hung over the 30-year-old's head for nearly five years. The next two months should provide the final answer, but Porte is at least somewhere near his best, having arrested the decline from a hugely disappointing 2014 with an impressive start to this campaign.
The telling moment that will define his future will come ten days into the Giro when Rigoberto Uran, Fabio Aru and Alberto Contador will ask far more pertinent questions of Porte's physical and mental fortitude. Until then Porte can rack up as many week-long races as Team Sky's dominance will allow, but to make the next step in his career he must deliver Paris-Nice-style rides over a three-week period.
Porte and Sky looked at their dominant best on the road to Croix de Chaubouret and in the final time trial but on the penultimate stage the British team were stretched and tested, first by Etixx-QuickStep and then by Tony Gallopin and his Lotto-Soudal teammates, with several attacks on the descents leading to crashes for both Porte and Geraint Thomas. Come the Giro, stronger three-week foes will emerge and any such limitations will be dealt with ruthlessly. At this stage, Porte appears on the right track, though, and finds the landscape far rosier than the one he faced twelve months ago.
Gallopin establishing himself as Lotto's talisman
He may have faltered in the final time trial but Tony Gallopin can take a huge amount of credit and confidence from his Paris-Nice display. He – and the entire Lotto-Soudal team, in fact – were aggressive throughout the week, picking up two stages wins, the king of the mountains jersey, and helping to ignite the race on the penultimate stage with the triumvirate of Thomas De Gendt, Tim Wellens and Gallopin all going on the attack.
Whisper it carefully, but Lotto are beginning to show themselves a genuine all-round force, and one not entirely reliant on the sprinting legs of Greipel. Five of their riders have already tasted victory this season and with nine wins in total they already have more wins in the bank than Trek Factory, Cannondale, Giant Alpecin, Tinkoff, and Europcar combined. They may be a long off the pace set by Etixx (16 wins) and Team Sky (13) but Sergeant's army are leading the best of the rest.
Gallopin is currently the pick of the lot and at 26, and with his best years ahead of him, it's little wonder that Sergeant offered the Frenchman a deal that ties him to the team until 2019.
With Jurgen Van den Broeck a fading star and Jurgen Roelandts struggling to confirm himself, Gallopin has started to shine at his brightest.
Bouhanni and Cofidis remain a shambles
He wanted freedom, he wanted his own lead-out train, he wanted the chance to lead a team and the salary to match, but despite creating his perfect environment at Cofidis, Nacer Bouhanni has displayed none of the vigour and valour that brought so many exhilarating sprint wins last season. Short of form, confidence and direction, the Frenchman has only one top-three place from a total of 22 race days in 2015. Granted, he is a particularly slow starter – by this point in the last two seasons he had tallied up two wins – but it's the nature of Bouhanni's troubles that are so apparent.
Simply put, he's not being placed in situations where he can win. Whether that's down to his lead-out faltering or his own legs running out of steam – or a combination of the two – remains to be seen but too often the Frenchman has been left isolated.
While it is worth remember that he is still only twenty-four and that the team needs time to gel it's also imperative to understand that Bouhanni created the nest he now finds himself in. He chose Geoffroy Soupe, Steve Chainel and dragged Dominique Rollin out of retirement, and most importantly he chose Cofidis, a team who haven't worked around a top-level sprinter since Jimmy Casper over a decade ago.
Van Garderen and Talansky short of form
Directors at both squads will be eagerly telling their riders that now is the time to get their poor performances out of the way but internally both of America's top-five contenders for the Tour de France will see Paris-Nice as a missed opportunity.
The parcours suited both men in slightly different ways but there was enough meat on the Paris-Nice bone for each rider to lay down a morale-boosting ride at a key point in the year. However neither of them did enough, with only flashes of their class showing during a difficult week peppered with misfortune and a lack of top form.
For Talansky and Cannondale the situation is more acute as the team are without a win since Nathan Haas' Japan Cup title almost five months ago. The team, for all their worthy ethos in recruiting young talent and protecting it, have perhaps overlooked the fact that they needed to sign a proven and consistent winner – a hole that’s been present in the squad for a number of years. It makes the re-signing of Dan Martin, who is out of contract at this end of the year, all the more important.
Kwiatkowski continues to improve
While most of the plaudits rightfully going to Gallopin and Lotto for their ride on stage 6, the world champion and his Etixx-QuickStep teammates also deserve credit for their all-round display. Knowing that Porte and Geraint Thomas had the measure of him on the climbs, Kwiatkowski and his team set about isolating the Team Sky duo through a number of attacks on the wet descents. It worked, splitting the field several times and ensuring that the British team arrived at the foot of the final ascent short in numbers. Despite losing ground on the slopes of the Cote de Peille, Kwiatkowski still had enough in his legs to regain contact before the finish and save his podium chances. Second place overall and the white jersey were worthy rewards for the Polish rider who continues to improve his stage racing stock.
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