Paris-Nice review: Heroic efforts on the French roads
Mar 13 2017 11:03 pm CET

Paris-Nice review: Heroic efforts on the French roads

The 75th Paris – Nice started on Sunday, March 5th in the town of Bois-D’Arcy near the French capital. After an exciting journey through 8 stages featuring wind, cold and lots of suffering the GC finally went to the Colombian national champion Sergio Luis Henao, after a very dramatic fight for the victory that stretched to the very last finish line.

This was the first World Tour victory for Henao who seeks to rise during this season after several years of highs and lows. He started by winning the Colombian National Championship a couple of weeks ago and now he rightfully claims the Paris – Nice crown after a very strong performance on the different terrains and with such cold blood to control his efforts during the last stage securing his GC lead.

The story of this edition of the ‘course au soleil’ begins with terrible wind and rain during the initial stages. BMC’s leader and two times winner Richie Porte lost more than 14 minutes with the other team leaders because of the echelons on day two, giving up his expectations for the GC. Although it was a shame that such a strong rider had lost all his options, this situation enabled him to ride freely without the policing of the other candidates and allow him to deliver a strong attack on the Col du la Couilolle in stage seven. The Australian rider proved that he is in great shape and showed himself as a serious candidate for the Grand Tours.

Alberto Contador also suffered a lot during the windy stages. The Trek squad failed to protect their leader during the chaotic first stage and the Spaniard got caught in the echelons losing more than a minute to other leaders such as Henao, Ilnur Zakarin or Dan Martin. But we are talking about a rider that is famous for never giving up, so after several days with mostly bad sensations Contador made a remarkable comeback in the ITT of Mont Brouilly, a hard summit route suited perfectly to his climbing skills. Although he couldn’t win the stage he recovered some time against his rivals and put himself back in the fight.

And that fight was meant to be rough; Henao was very strong and motivated and had the fine-tuned machine of Sky, with names such as Mikel Nieve, David López and his cousin Sebastián Henao behind him. On the other hand Contador seemed to be as alone as he was in previous seasons, especially after the first stage. But that was not the case and that was made clear in the final two stages where the Trek squad showed themselves on the front of the peloton. However one man was more important than any other in the fight of Contador: Jarlinson Pantano.

Pantano showed his qualifications in the past Tour de France. He is a strong and versatile rider who can make a difference both in uphill terrain, the plain roads and on the slopes of the Col de la Couillole in the seventh and penultimate stage. He delivered a great climb pulling the main group by himself during several kilometers, isolating other leaders such as Henao and reducing the peloton into a few riders. Thanks to him Contador had a favorable terrain to make his attack in the final kilometers shortening the difference between him and the Sky leader in the GC. Nevertheless Henao managed his strength and had a very good damage control in order to save as much time as he could. The stage was set for the final duel on the last day.

The profile of the final stage wasn’t that comfortable for Contador as there was no summit finish and the finish line was placed after the gentle descent of the Col d’Eze. The Spaniard had to try to get enough time difference at the top of the climb in order to manage the difference during the descent and the flat end.

But Contador did more than that. Pantano was indispensable once again on the penultimate mountain of the day: the Cote de Peille, forcing a higher pace in the main group and setting up the attack from his team leader. With 50 km to go, as he did in the Vuelta a España in 2012 and the Giro in 2015, Contador launched a strong attack quickly leaving behind the group of Henao and Dan Martin, the two riders in the two first spots of the GC.

The rest of the stage was frenetic. Henao did a great job not falling into desperation and controlling his effort in such a good form that enabled him to control the time gap almost by himself as he quickly lost his teammates and didn’t receive enough help from the other teams. Contador also had to pull the front group, formed with members of the breakaway, all by himself during most of the route. The nerves were at its highest during the climb to Col d’Eze where Contador reached around a minute of time advantage with the Henao group. The dream seemed possible.

But at the end and even with the time bonuses that the Trek leader collected passing second for the intermediate sprint and the finish line (David de la Cruz sprinted to the stage victory), he was two seconds short. Henao crossed the finish line 21 seconds behind the stage winner claiming his most important victory of his career so far.

At the end Contador couldn’t take the GC or any stage but he leaves Nice with the recognition of being that different and brave rider that never gives up, that incarnates the classic and combative spirit of road cycling. Everybody recognizes the mental strength and courage that it takes to perform such long attacks and go all-in for the victory with little or no help, and we in the cycling world are thankful for his attitude and the great spectacle that Contador delivers In each race. This sport is so epic and beautiful thanks to the effort of people as brave as him.

Besides the GC fight between the favorites, a great and kind of unexpected performance is worth remarking: Julian Alaphilippe. The young French rider wore the yellow jersey during three days after a really outstanding ITT and a heroic defense on the hard slopes of the final kilometer of the 6th stage in Fayence. Alaphilippe’s performance plus the third overall place of Dan Martin add up to the incredible season that Quick-step Floors is having.

That was Paris – Nice. A race that nobody could have predicted and that once again delivered the best of Alberto Contador and road cycling.

By Marcelo Hernández
Image: Paris-Nice logo





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