We start with disappointment. Tony Martin's chances in Paris-Nice went down a drain clogged with rain, with terrible performance on Stage 1. See Squadralytics' take on the subject of whether weather had anything to do with it. As if to take revenge, OPQS drove a big break away on Stage 2 to eliminate the GC chances of many hopefuls - even if Tony Martin himself was left out. Watchful Wiggins, on the other hand, is in prime position to win the Paris-Nice GC. Not many contenders are left, and with his consistently strong performances we think Col d'Eze is strongly in his favor.
The big break of Stage 2 forcefully converted many GC contenders to stage-hunters. Still, Paris-Nice is a short stage race and Wiggins/Team Sky did a good job watching for finishing gaps. In particular, Richie Porte deserve kudos. Perhaps he is paying back the work that the team did for him in Algarve, where Team Sky took the race into their hands.
|Ommegang to the races.|
Tom Boonen has been riding as if he had found a new spirit: working hard for teammates in stages of Paris-Nice following his win on Stage 2. It is good to see his spirits up as we approach a frustrating juncture in his career where he is too big to let go but not dominant enough to crush mortals in the peloton.
Tejay Van Gardener, a young American, sat within fighting distance of Wiggins, but after a few hard days he is overshadowed by Return of the Prince of Spain Alejandro Valverde. Speaking of whom, Movistar is riding with a very united spirit that reminds us of the days of, well, Valverde. Like him or not, he seems to have a special way to motivate his teammates.
One surprise of Paris-Nice is Simon Gerrans: where did he come from? He nearly pipped Valverde at a tricky, narrow, uphill finish of Stage 3. Another contingent from GreenEDGE earned a hard-won TTT in the Tirreno-Adriatico opener. We were skeptical of this team, and we are happy to be corrected.
We like that Gianni Meersman - a young Belgian newly returned to a Belgian team - appears to have just entered the winning ranks. Last year saw him do well in both Ardennes and cobbled races. We think that this year Lotto-Belisol will invest in him, what with Jurgen Roelandts out of the game for a while. With Meersman's return to a Belgian team, FdJ is looking more and more like a finishing school for Belgian youngsters; remember Gilbert himself had spent his formative years under Marc Madiot's watch before being recruited to the then Davitamon-Lotto? Regardless, given Lotto-Belisol's slow start to the season so far, Meersman's result is very much welcome.
Another youngster worth watching is Grega Bole of Lampre-ISD. Last year we watched him win GP Ouest France / Plouay, no slouch of a race even if they are having a hard time attracting sponsors. In particular, the parcours of the race means it heavily favors hilly race specialists, with former winners including Vincenzo Nibali, Thomas Voeckler, Simon Gerrans. We think that absent Damiano Cunego's winning ways, Lampre-ISD should give Bole a chance to ride his own race instead of wasting his power on lead-outs, only to drop his main guy.
Thor Hushovd continues to battle sickness. It's not looking good for his chances come Milano-Sanremo, and we think that Team BMC will put everything on Philippe Gilbert and maybe Greg Van Avermaet. Another rider suffering with illness on the same team is youngster Taylor Phinney. That's too bad, as he was in the big break of Stage 2. Maybe the illness of these two caused by the same plate of salade Niçoise.
Is Ivan Basso serious about putting all his eggs into the basket of the TdF? He is always among the first to be dropped off the back of the peloton.
Farther east, Tirreno-Adriatico is the other race that is used as a springboard towards the big classics races. Cavendish and the other Team Sky contingent shows that they mean business, with a well-drilled sprint train. Things are looking good for Cavendish to show his strength in Milano-Sanremo.
What are your thoughts on Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico so far?