Before the race has even hit the road the coronavirus has taken out the most combative prize at the 2020 Paris-Nice, with Astana, CCC, Jumbo-Visma, Ineos, Mitchelton-Scott, Movistar and UAE all choosing not to race due to concerns about the virus.
Rather than deplete the field, a bunch of super strong GC riders and sprinters/hard men are now lining up together and against each other that normally wouldn't in March at Paris-Nice.
To supplement the reduced peloton, ASO has invited two additional wildcard teams and added an extra rider to the start list for each team. Those wildcard teams, B&B Vital Concept and Circus Wanty Gobert, will attack at every opportunity in an effort to win favour with ASO in the hope of more big race invitations.
Across the border, the Italian races have been cancelled, including Paris-Nice’s counterpart Tirreno-Adriatico.
Enter Vincenzo Nibali, Peter Sagan and Romain Bardet (with an individual time trial in the race, I don’t think he can win overall), who were scheduled to ride Tirreno-Adriatico, to the start list.
It also means Sagan rides with Pascal Ackermann for Bora-hansgrohe and Vincenzo Nibali rides with Richie Porte for Trek-Segafredo.
Regardless of the circumstances, this is a prestigious race to win and for the fast men to take stages.
The GC Contenders
Nairo Quintana - until Egan Bernal’s breakout 2019, when he became the first Colombian to win the Tour, Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) was his nation’s number one cycling hero. The limelight has now shifted. And at 30, Quintana feels like the old man of Colombian cycling. But this is still prime winning age.
For the first time in his career Quintana has changed teams and with the French squad he’s won the two French races he’s ridden - Tour des Alpes, ahead of Romain Bardet and Richie Porte, and the Tour de La Provence, with an exceptional performance on Mt Ventoux.
Sergio Higuita (EF Pro Cycling) - made his WorldTour debut midway through last season. At his first three-week race, the Vuelta a Espana, he finish 14th overall and won a mountainous Stage 18. The 22-year-old has backed that up with a perfect start to 2020 taking out the Colombian road championships, ahead of Bernal, and overall victory in the Tour Colombia, where Bernal was fourth.
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceunick - Quick Step) - off the charts entertaining, the charismatic Frenchman is impossible to predict. Fifth in the Tour de France last year… I never would have picked it. He’ll be super motivated for Stage 4, the individual time trial, in his hometown of Saint-Amand-Montrond.
He could win overall or he could completely blow up and finish 43rd. It’s the unknown that makes him compulsory viewing.
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama - FDJ) - he had the horsepower to win last year’s Tour. He was the only guy to distance Bernal in the mountains.
But he’s so fragile. Yet he still dreams of yellow in Paris and that’s the goal in 2020. A stage win and top five overall would be a great outcome. I can only imagine the hype, amongst the French media, that overall victory would create.
Riche Porte (Trek-Segafredo) - is the only Australian to have won the race, in 2013 and 2015, and his Tour Down Under performance shows he’s back to that sort of form. Surviving the first three stages will be his biggest challenge. He’ll love the final two mountainous stages on his European home roads.
Porte can definitely win.
Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) - a new team this year for Nibali, he was scheduled to race in Italy but now his program unexpectedly clashed with teammate Richie Porte’s. He too can win. But who’s the team leader? Nibali and Porte have both shown the early season form that puts them in contention. The Stage 4 individual time trial could decide team leadership. How they work together will be intriguing.
I think they’ll get along just fine.
Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) is also on the start list and is the favourite for stages 2, 3 and 5. If the team goes all in with the leadout he’ll have an incredible train with Philippe Gilbert, John Degenkolb and Roger Kluge.
But he’ll have some stiff competition.
Sam Bennett (Deceunick - Quick Step) has the support of the best drilled sprint team in the peloton, which will include Michael Morkov, who, during an interview at the TDU, Cameron Meyer and Elia Viviani declared the smartest leadout man in the world.
Pascal Ackermann (Bora - hansgrohe) won two stages at the Giro d’Italia last year. Both of them with Caleb still in the race.
He’ll relish the chance to go head-to-head with the man currently regarded as the world’s fastest sprinter. But Peter Sagan has recently been added to the start list for Bora - hansgrohe.
Sagan is my pick for Stage 1, as there’s a Cat 3 climb inside the last 10km, but Ackermann is a better beat for stages 2, 3 and 5. Sagan the leadout man, surely not. I can’t wait to see what the team decides to do.
Plus there’s Nacer Bouhanni. He’s on Arkea-Samsic, with Nairo Quintana, so it’s a team divided in two. One for the climber, one for the sprinter. He has Dan McLay and Connor Swift for support. If he doesn’t win it won’t be for a lack of wiggling, weaving and trying.
How to watch Paris-Nice 2020 LIVE on SBS / SBS On Demand:
Sunday 8 March - Stage 1 Plaisir to Plaisir (154km) - LIVE streaming to ALL via Cycling Central / SBS On Demand and LIVE on SBS (Eastern only) 11:40pm - 1:10am AEDT
Tuesday 10 March - Stage 2 Chevreuse to Chalette-sur-Loing (166.5km) - LIVE streaming to ALL via Cycling Central / SBS On Demand and LIVE on SBS (Eastern and Central) 0:40am - 2:40am AEDT
Wednesday 11 March - Stage 3 Chalette-sur-Loing › La Châtre (212.5km) - LIVE streaming to ALL via Cycling Central / SBS On Demand and LIVE on SBS (Eastern and Central) 0:40am - 2:40am AEDT
Thursday 12 March - Stage 4 (ITT) Saint-Amand-Montrond (15.1km) - LIVE streaming to ALL via Cycling Central / SBS On Demand and LIVE on SBS (Eastern and Central) 0:40am - 2:40am AEDT
Friday 13 March - Stage 5 Gannat to La Côte-Saint-André (227km) - LIVE streaming to ALL via Cycling Central / SBS On Demand and LIVE on SBS (Eastern and Central) 0:40am - 2:40am AEDT
Saturday 14 March - Stage 6 Sorgues to Apt (160.5km) - LIVE streaming to ALL via Cycling Central / SBS On Demand and LIVE on SBS (Eastern and Central) 0:40am - 2:40am AEDT
Saturday 14 March - Stage 7 Nice to Valdeblore La Colmiane (166.5km) (Sat 14 Mar) - LIVE streaming to ALL via Cycling Central / SBS On Demand and LIVE on SBS (Eastern only) 11:25pm - 1:10am AEDT
Sunday 15 March - Stage 8 Nice to Nice (!33.5km) - LIVE streaming to ALL via Cycling Central / SBS On Demand and LIVE on SBS (Eastern only) 11:30pm - 1:10am AEDT