The 2019 Paris-Nice Wrap
I’ve been branding most of my stage race round-ups ‘wraps’ for the last year or so, but I can’t help but feel that a Paris-Nice wrap must be a specific type of French taco.
Do you know about the French taco? It’s the French version of meat and chips in a wrap – which is to say that it’s meat and chips in a wrap drowned in a cheese sauce. It’s what happens when a Greek gyros meets a fondue.
It probably doesn’t make great cycling food.
The top to bottom of things
I like Paris-Nice. I like the idea of a bike race starting in one place and ending in a very different place and the timing and direction of travel in Paris-Nice delivers this in a very satisfying way.
Sure, Tirreno-Adriatico starts in one place and ends in another, but it starts at one Italian sea and ends at another Italian sea and nothing much has really changed. In contrast, Paris-Nice starts in the north of France in wintery spring and ends in the south of France in summery spring. Things change.
The top of France
The early stages were fast and flat affairs where the wind blew holes in the peloton. (Stage two was particularly noteworthy in that they covered 160km in a little over three hours. Fair to say they had a tailwind.)
Watch this. This is a perfect example of the stomach-churning moment when an echelon forms and you find you’re not in it.
Imagine missing the split and just watching the race drift away from you. That’s springtime racing at its purest.
Plenty of the overall contenders missed out because this happened. This is good. Although the race was ‘won’ on the climbs, it was also lost by many people in these early stages. That’s how things should be.
To give just one example, Simon Yates – last year’s Vuelta a Espana winner – lost 20 minutes. (He then utterly bizarrely won the midweek time trial. He did have the best of conditions thanks to being so far behind, but he’s never won one before so that’s a big deal.)
After three stages, Dylan Groenwegen was leading because he is great at not missing the cut for an echelon. He is less good at hauling his beefy carcass uphill though, so we then got act two in the warmer, lumpier second half of the race.
The bottom of France
On what turned out to be the most significant mountain stage, Team Sky had Michal Kwiatkowski in the overall lead. They hammered it trying to chase down Philippe Gilbert in the breakaway, afraid he’d snatch the yellow jersey, and ended up going so hard that Kwiatkowski was dropped.
No matter though. Sky being Sky, they also had 22-year-old Colombian Egan “the future of stage racing” Bernal right up there too. By the end of the day, he was in the lead and he stayed there.
It seems pertinent at this point to mention that Team Sky’s rumoured sponsorship deal with Ineos is now confirmed. The team is saved, but somewhat depressingly it sounds like they’re going to have an even larger budget. Forget all your dreams of a more level playing field. The pro cycling playing field is more like the Zoncolan or something.
2019 Tirreno-Adriatico Wrap
Julian Alaphilippe won two stages, his fifth and sixth wins of the year, one of which was a bunch sprint (I told you he’d win a whole bunch of stuff this season).
Primoz Roglic, the Slovenian former ski jumper, won the overall. He finished 31 hundredths of a second ahead of Adam Yates, which is not a lot, but enough.
Roglic was fourth in the Tour last year and seemed to spend around a third of the final mountain stage attacking everyone. He tackled the final descent in such a way that everyone was basically too terrified to follow him. (They deny this, but I don’t believe them.) He is an impressive and underrated stage-racer and he’s going for the Giro d’Italia this season.
Milan-San Remo on Saturday. A unique race, it’s been won by both Mark Cavendish and Vincenzo Nibali – proof that it can be won by sprinters, climbers, or anyone in between. It’s 300km of incrementally building tension and a very good watch if you can catch the last hour or so.