Paris-Nice: Sickness sweeps through the soaked peloton

The apocalyptic weather at the start of the final stage of Paris-Nice was the nail in the coffin for four more riders this morning, with Dries Devenyns (Quick-Step Floors), Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecon), Christophe Laporte and Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis) all non starters for the 110-kilometre eighth stage.

Meanwhile, as high winds and heavy ran buffeted the start area on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, the Groupama-FDJ team only mustered one rider, Rudy Molard, winner of stage six in Vence, after Olivier Le Gac, Ramon Sinkledam, Mickael Delage and Jacopo Gaurnieri all quit on the road to Saturday's summit finish at La Colmiane.

On Saturday, Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) became the latest to join his colleagues in sick bay.

"I felt bad during the race," Martin said. "My legs had no power and I was struggling to stay with the peloton. Half of the peloton is sick."

Now Martin is recovering prior to the Tour of Catalunya and the Ardennes Classics.

This year's Paris-Nice seems to have been particularly tough for the sprinters, more so than perhaps any other group in the peloton, although a final few days stacked with climbs may have also hastened their departure. Of the 'name' sprinters, only Andre Greipel, Elia Viviani and Heinrich Haussler made it to the finish in La Colmiane. Molard's teammate, Arnaud Demare, peaked on stage 1 with victory in Meudon, but went steadily downhill as the race went on.

"Because of the bad weather coming this weekend, and accumulated fatigue from the start of the race, Arnaud is not starting stage seven," his team said. Unsaid, however, was Demare's poor climbing on Thursday and Friday, which made his departure almost inevitable and also did not bode well for next weekend's Milan-San Remo.

The change in climate, from racing in 30 degrees in the deserts of Dubai, Oman and Abu Dhabi, to competing in freezing rain and single-figure temperatures, may be partly to blame for the loss of so many riders from this year's peloton in the Race to the Sun, but it's also down to the increased intensity of the race itself.

If the chill air and icy rain at La Colmiane ski station, 1,500 metres up in the Alpes Maritimes, hardly suited Demare, it also didn't help those who were already struggling, with even stage winner Simon Yates shivering through the post-race protocols. Ten years ago, a summit finish as high as this and as far into the Alps would have been unthinkable in Paris-Nice, but as the rivalry between the Race to the Sun and its Italian counterpart, Tirreno-Adriatico - the Race of the Two Seas - intensifies, that tradition appears to have been dispensed with.

Both races now feature ski station finishes at altitude, with the Italian race having the advantage - usually - of slightly warmer temperatures. But for some both races are pushing what's acceptable to the limit.

"Paris-Nice and Tirreno get a little bit harder each year, in order to attract the GC riders," said Quick-Step Floors' Brian Holm. "These days it feels like a competition to make them both harder, but I'm an old idiot, so I liked it more in the Sean Kelly days."

Sunday's final stage featured 36 abadnons and riders finishing outside the time limit. Just 78 riders officially finished the race.

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