With wet weather forecast, Paris-Nice is likely to live up to its nickname, “The Race to the Sun” as the peloton heads to the sunny Mediterranean.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Cycling Central
6 Mar 2016 - 12:11 PM  UPDATED 6 Mar 2016 - 12:19 PM

On offer is a smorgasbord for riders, with sprinters, time-trialists, climbers and even the classics men provided opportunities to shine.

A prologue kicks things off, before the first stage's three dirt sections that while unlikely to cause big splits, may cause carnage in the rain.

The flat and the more undulating sprint stages will give fans an insight into where the sprinting hierarchy is at the moment. With Marcel Kittel (Etixx-Quickstep) vs Andre Greipel (Lotto-Fix All) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) vs Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), most of the fastest men on wheels are present to try and gain an early season lead in the "best sprinter" race. 

Kristoff says he won't win a Paris-Nice drag race
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) was a toast of the spring classics last season but won’t acknowledge a changing of the guard there just yet with Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara set to return to the scene.

A series of mountain stages also offer opportunities for GC riders to make their mark. Richie Porte returns to the race he has won twice. While his Tour of Oman performance fell below expectations, Paris-Nice is a race the 2015 winner feels comfortable with and should not be ruled out as favourite. If the rain comes down hard, Porte may remember his crash on a particularly wet stage of the 2015 race where he lost significant time. He not only continued on to the triumph, but also won Giro del Trentino and Volta a Catalunya that year. This should leave Porte confident of making it a trio of Paris-Nice wins in 2016.

Dennis out of Paris-Nice
Rohan Dennis will not take the start at Paris-Nice this Sunday, his team, BMC has announced.

There are a host of stars waiting to bring the challenge to the Australian, with 10-15 favourites fancying their podium chances. Heading the list for the overall win is Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) who's been easing his way into the season. He won the Volta Algarve queen stage handily over big names like Fabio Aru (Astana), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Geraint Thomas (Sky) and Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale). Contador is never far from his best once he starts racing at World Tour level. This is potentially his last season and the way he appears to have shed weight and ramped up his preparation, he is supremely motivated.

Tom Dumoulin and Giant-Alpecin are always playing down the big Dutchman’s talent, talking about taking races ‘day by day’ and not wanting to apply the pressure. In reality he’s a big star, as his breakout at the 2015 Vuelta a España showed. He'll be right up there with the best if he can build on a solid fourth in Oman. He should take a few seconds' advantage in the prologue over many other contenders, and from there it will be up to everyone else to overtake him. He proved that's tough to do at the Vuelta, a three week grand tour, and could prove even more challenging at a week long stage race that suits him better.

Romain Bardet (AG2R-Mondiale) will carry French hopes into the race, as they look for their first winner of Paris-Nice since Laurent Jalabert in 1997. He has the talent to do it, and a versatility that will serve him well on this course. A strong second behind Nibali in Oman shows his form is ticking along nicely at this early stage of the season.

The perennially underestimated Simon Spilak (Katusha) lacks household name recognition, but there’s no doubting the Russian's dogged tenacity and grit when it comes to digging deep in these week-long races. He will especially come to the fore if the rain causes difficulties as his best performances have come in bad weather in races like Tour de Romandie and Tour de Suisse. Not averse to a long attack, Spilak may look to put the pressure on his rivals a long way out from the finish on mountain stages and can punish dithering in the chase.

Geraint Thomas (Sky) has set aside most of his usual classics schedule to prepare himself to race the Grand Tours as a GC rider. He’s certainly got the climbing legs to do so, which he’s shown as a key lieutenant for Froome at the Tour de France, and also in this race last year with his fifth place behind then team-mate Porte. He’s already got an overall win to his name this year in Volta Algarve, but tellingly he conceded 28 seconds to Contador on the queen stage. His one-two punch with fellow Sky rider Sergio Henao could be something to watch out for.

Orica-GreenEdge have youngster Simon Yates as their main man for the climbs, but they’ve also nominated Michael Matthews as having a chance to end up in a good position overall. It would certainly be a big step up for the Canberra-born cyclist, who hasn’t targeted overall in his races to date, but his versatility will stand him in good stead here if he lasts with the best on the climbs. Stages 5 and 7 look to play right into his hands, so if he can limit his losses elsewhere and grab bonus seconds, he might spring a surprise.

There’s a lot of other top riders who, on their day, could also challenge for the podium and it will be an enthralling race to watch play out.

Paris-Nice will be broadcast live on SBS2 and streamed online at Cycling Central from Sunday 6 March - 13 March (check your local guides):

Sunday 6 March: 2330 – 0100 AEDT
Monday 7 March: 0115 – 0300 AEDT
Tuesday 8 March 0150 – 0325 AEDT
Wednesday 9 March: 0150 – 0325 AEDT
Thursday 10 March: 0115 – 0250 AEDT
Friday 11 March: 0115 – 0250 AEDT
Saturday 12 March: 0125 – 0310 AEDT 
Sunday 13 March: 2340 – 0110 AEDT