Officials revealed details of 68th Paris-Nice on Thursday and the “Race to the Sun” follows a familiar pattern, with an individual time trial on the outskirts of Paris on March 7 to open what’s arguably France’s most important stage race behind the Tour de France.
The route plunges south, with long but sprint-friendly stages into Contres and Limoges for stages 1 and 2. Attackers and aggressive riders will have their chance in two stages across the Massif Central, where the roads are sometimes blocked with snow.
A summit finish above Mende in stage 4 should prove decisive in settling the GC before the race transfers to Provence for the closing three stages.
Unpredictable stages into Aix-en-Provence and Tourrettes-sur-Loup should keep things exciting until the traditional finish along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice for the short, but intense stage over Col d’Eze along the Cote d’Azur on March 14.
Race director Christian Prudhomme promises the race “should come down to a matter of seconds.”
That was certainly the case last year, when Luís León Sánchez (Caisse d’Epargne) edged Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) by one second.
Back to challenge for the spoils will be Alberto Contador, who won in 2007 en route to his first Tour de France victory. Contador was leading last year when he suffered a bonk on the key climbing stage to open the door for Sánchez’s overall victory.
Much was made about Contador’s difficulties, but he went on to silence his critics with a dramatic overall victory at the Tour.
“I really like Paris-Nice and I will go back this year to try to win it again,” Contador said. “It’s a race that suits me well, but I don’t want to put too much importance on it if something doesn’t work out.”
RadioShack sport director Alain Gallopin, who directed Contador last year at Astana, said this year’s parcours is perfectly suited for Contador.
“With the time trial on the first day and a summit finish, it’s an ideal course for (Contador),” Gallopin said. “We can hope to finish in the top 10 and more in a moment of weakness or an error.”
Other top names expected to race include Philippe Gilbert (Pharma-Lotto), Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), last year’s second-place man Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank), Heinrich Haussler (Cervélo) and Andre Greipel (HTC-Columbia).
A total of 22 teams will participate, with the wild card teams decided by the end of the month, Prudhomme said.
Route for the 2010 Paris-Nice
Prologue, Sunday, March 7: Montfort-l’Amaury, 8km
Stage 1, Monday, March 8: Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines to Contres, 201.5km
Stage 2, Tuesday, March 9: Contres to Limoges, 203.5km
Stage 3, Wednesday, March 10: Saint-Junien to Aurillac, 208km
Stage 4, Thursday, March 11: Maurs to Mende, 172km
Stage 5, Friday, March 12: Pernes-les-Fontaines to Aix-en-Provence, 153.5km
Stage 6, Saturday, March 13: Peynier to Torrettes-sur-Loup, 220km
Stage 7, Sunday, March 14: Nice-Nice, 119km
Total distance: 1,285.5km