This year will be the first time I haven’t commentated Paris-Nice from the finish line since calling it from France in 2007.
I remember the first day well. A 5km prologue in Issy-les-Moulineaux, the Paris suburb where the ASO has its office, and David Millar - riding for Saunier Duval - was making his return after a doping suspension and won ahead of Roman Kreuziger.
ALBERTO CONTADOR 2007
The moment in 2007 that remains the most vivid is Stage 4 to the mountain top at Mende. It was the day I said Alberto Contador would win the Tour de France one day. I just didn’t think it would be later that year.
Riding for Discovery Channel, with Australia’s Matt White as one of his teammates, it was the day Contador became El Pistolero.
He launched what would become his trademark attack, seemingly a little too far from the finish, and held off Davide Rebellin, Frank Schleck and Cadel Evans.
Contador also won the final stage, with a long range attack into Nice, and won the race overall. Cadel was seventh.
LUIS LEON SANCHEZ 2009
In 2009 Alberto Contador looked unstoppable. He’d won every grand tour he’d started in the previous two years and the race started perfectly for him, beating Bradley Wiggins by 7 seconds in the Stage 1 individual time trial.
Contador then consolidated his position in yellow by winning the mountain-top finish, on Stage 6, solo.
Heading into the penultimate stage, a day of only rolling hills, he had a minute and 13 second lead over Luis Leon Sanchez.
It turned into the best one-day performance I’ve seen by Luis Leon Sanchez. He was in a select group with Alberto and sensed that his old teammate wasn’t at his best. Contador was going hunger flat.
Across the top of a medium-sized climb Sanchez opened a small gap and then put his brakes away on the descent. He was away solo and the chase was on behind.
Contador got picked up by the second group but was soon dropped by them too.
Sanchez rode to victory, 50 seconds ahead of a group containing Frank Schleck, Sylvain Chavanel and Jens Voigt.
Contador was 33rd at 2:53.
Sanchez took yellow and defend his lead the following day to win overall.
BRADLEY WIGGINS 2012
There’s no denying that 2012 belonged to Bradley Wiggins and it all started, in classic Sky fashion, at Paris-Nice.
Wiggins took the yellow jersey on the second day and defended a six second lead all the way to the final day, where he won the time trial, up the iconic Col d’Eze, to win overall by eight seconds.
There was nothing flashy about it. It was brilliantly boring and set the tone for how Sky would dominate the Tour de France for the next eight years.
In that year Wiggins won Paris-Nice, Tour of Romandie, the Criterium du Dauphine, the Tour de France and the gold medal in the time trial at the London Olympics. That’s a hell of a career in one year.
RICHIE PORTE 2013
In 2013 Bradley Wiggins didn’t return as defending champion so Team Sky put Richie Porte in as their leader. Big shoes to fill and Richie filled them well.
Throughout the race he battled with Andrew Talansky and a young Romain Bardet.
On the decisive day, he won Stage 5 to La Montagne de Lure. Entering the stage, Talansky was in yellow with Porte poised at just seven seconds behind.
Michele Scarponi, Nairo Quintana, Denis Menchov and even the yellow jersey of Talansky all attacked on the final climb as Richie waited for his moment. At 1.4km to go Richie went and it may as well have been Willunga Hill.
In the space of 1.4km he opened a gap of 26 seconds to Menchov and 33 seconds to Talansky and Quintana, to take the yellow jersey which he kept to the finish.
In the final stage time trial up the Col d’Eze, Porte put a huge stamp on the race, winning the stage ahead of Talansky and Quintana.
In the post-race press conference, he was asked how it felt to be the first Australian to win Paris-Nice. Super proud of his home state Richie responded, “I’m not the first Australian to win Paris-Nice, I’m the first Tasmanian to win Paris-Nice”.
MICHAEL MATTHEWS 2016
In 2016 Paris-Nice was the first race of the season for Michael Matthews. A big race to get the season started.
Day one was a 6.1km prologue. Matthews won it by one second ahead of Tom Dumoulin, Geraint Thomas was seventh. They’re some big scalps to take.
He then won Stage 2 by out-sprinting Niccolo Bonifazio, Nacer Bouhanni, Alexander Kristoff and Arnaud Demare.
In the first five days he was 1st, 5th, 1st, 5th and 3rd, and held the yellow jersey until Geraint Thomas, the eventual winner, assumed the race lead on the penultimate stage.
It’s performances like this that make me uncomfortable with his nickname of Bling. Bling implies being a showy party boy.
But these results, in his first race of the season, can only be achieved by a consummate professional.
2016 was Michael’s last season with GreenEDGE. In 2021 he returns to the team and his first race of the year will be Paris-Nice. He’ll be ready.
COVID 2020 - getting home
Last year I left for Paris-Nice thinking I probably shouldn’t be leaving Australia. But, at that time, the impact of COVID wasn’t really clear.
In the time between my departure from Australia and the start of the race Astana, CCC, Mitchelton-Scott, Movistar, Team INEOS, Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates had withdrawn from the race.
The race hadn’t started yet and all I was thinking about was getting home.
The race started with limited crowds at the start and finish line. By the second stage, there were no crowds allowed at all.
Across the next few days Israel Start-Up Nation, Bahrain McLaren and then-world champion, Mads Pedersen, all withdrew due to coronavirus concerns.
Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) won the first stage and defended the yellow jersey to the end, which wasn’t quite the end. The race was cut short by one day after the French government announced a nation-wide lockdown.
Departing Paris, I was bumped off my first flight, as it was going via Singapore and they weren’t accepting, even in transit, passengers who had been in a hot spot (all of France).
I returned to Melbourne, a few days later than anticipated, and had 14 days in home isolation as hotel quarantine wasn’t in place yet.
That was my last trip to Europe.
Every year since 2007 I’ve travelled to and from Europe at least three times, often four. This year I’m commentating Paris-Nice from Sydney with David McKenzie. I’ll miss being on the ground but I’m much happier to be calling it from the SBS studio.