• Sergio Henao (yellow) at the 2017 Paris-Nice. (Getty)Source: Getty
The start to every season always throws up questions about fitness and for those riders taking a traditional French pathway to the Tour de France, Paris-Nice is the first opportunity to receive some answers.
Cycling Cental

28 Feb 2018 - 9:49 AM  UPDATED 28 Feb 2018 - 9:54 AM

The 76th edition of Paris-Nice, gets the European stage race season underway from 4-11 March and will feature riders like Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates), Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott), Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) and defending champion Sergio Henao (Sky).

The Race to the Sun also includes a strong French cohort who can challenge for the overall, including Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors), Tony Gallopin (AG2R) and Tour de France mountains classification winner Warren Barguil, now with Fortuneo-Samsic.

The sprinters will also have their chances with a red-hot Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) facing off against Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin), Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) and Arnaud Démare (FDJ).

An embattled Team Sky can be expected to mount a strong defence of Henao's 2017 win without the worry of a now retired Alberto Contador nor Australian Richie Porte (BMC) in the race but they will still face strong opposition.

Third in 2017, the dogged Dan Martin is perhaps the best positioned to mount a challenge to Henao while Chaves looks like he's back to his 2016 form after taking out January's Tour Down Under.

Van Garderen can hope to taste victory on the time-trial in Saint-Etienne and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), freed from working for others, could add Paris-Nice to his 2017 Criterium du Dauphiné title. And an always threatening Zakarin could perhaps seize the opportunity with Alaphilippe, Gallopin and Warren Barguil also in the mix for a big step up.

The 22 teams for Paris-Nice
Mitchelton-Scott, Bahrain-Merida, Quick-Step Floors, Lotto-Soudal, AG2R La Mondiale, Groupama-FDJ, Cofidis, Solutions Crédits, Direct Energie, Fortuneo-Samsic, Delko Marseille Provence KTM, Sunweb, BORA-hansgrohe, Sky, Astana, Lotto NL-Jumbo, Dimension Data, Movistar, Katusha Alpecin, UAE Team Emirates, BMC, EF Education First Drapac Cannondale and Trek-Segafredo.