The Rouleur team will be spending hours each week poring over form guides, weather forecasts and stages profiles, all in an inevitably fruitless attempt to give themselves some sort of edge over their rivals.
We were going to keep it to the one-day classics and Grand Tours but a certain inconsiderate global pandemic has rather put the kibosh on those plans. Stepping up this week is Paris-Nice – the Race to the Sun.
Our old adversary, the Cycling Mole, is once again on hand to rain on our parades, taking us to task and mercilessly mocking our selections.
Stage 1 definitely delivered on the excitement front. As Cycling Mole forecast, the weather played its part, splitting the race and presenting opportunities for opportunists.
Although Max Schachmann picked their pockets at the finish, it somewhat satisfying – and certainly serendipitous – to see Tiesj Benoot and Julian Alaphilippe, the last two winners of Strade Bianche, out on their own for the last twenty kilometres.
Paris-Nice 2020 – Stage 2: Chevreuse to Chalette-sur-Loing (166.5km)
This one’s a bit clearer, eh? After yesterday’s out and back, today’s stage actually starts heading in the direction of the race’s final Mediterranean destination. While yesterday was all over the road, Stage 2 seems all but certain to finish in a sprint. Lumpy, but nothing that’ll slow down the pack. With plenty of options to choose from, do our panel diverge or converge?
Andy Hill: Elia Viviani – Cofidis
It’s a lumpier day to begin with but should still be a bunch sprint so I am going with Viviani as I reckon he climbs better than most sprinters and thus will have fresher legs at the finish.
Ben Ward: Pascal Ackermann – Bora-Hansgrohe
I’m going to for Pascal Ackermann to edge out Sam Bennett and Caleb Ewan on this sprint stage. I don’t think even Peter Sagan knows what kind of form Peter Sagan is in, so I think that Bora Hansgrohe will be focused on this stage to try and get something tangible out of this race.
Andy McGrath: Sam Bennett – Deceuninck-Quick Step
Looks set to be a mouth-watering sprint showdown, with virtually all the sport’s top sprinters lining up here and little to choose between them. The Irishman will be put in the best position by Deceuninck and will finish it off – narrowly.
Miles Baker-Clarke: Caleb Ewan – Lotto-Soudal
Having lost on the previous stage – because I’m bound to have guessed correctly with Viviani…- I think stage two is going to be one for Caleb Ewan. The stage is flat as can be and he’ll have stiff competition from Bennett and Ackermann but I think he’ll want to nab an early-season win.
Nick Christian: Sam Bennett – Deceuninck-Quick Step
No question that this one will come down to a sprint. Bennett so far seems to have struggled to adapt to having a full lead-out at his disposal, rather than following someone else’s wheel, but I’m banking on him being able to deliver for Deceuninck.
The Cycling Mole’s verdict:
Told you it was going to be chaos! I didn’t manage to pick the winner, but I’ll take that as a moral victory against most of the others picking a sprinter! We roll onto stage 2, which looks much quieter than today. The wind won’t be as strong, and most of the stage is spent sheltered from the elements, but there’s still a chance of some echelons as we approach the finishing town. Despite that, this will still be a big sprint. We have a whole host of fast men here: Bennett, Ewan, Ackermann, Bol, Bouhanni, Nizzolo and Viviani. Picking the winner from this bunch won’t be easy, but I’ll do my best.
Andy H is straight in with Viviani, maybe he’s not seen any of the races yet this season. The Italian knew this would happen when he left QuickStep, but a nice big pay cheque obviously helped persuade him to move to Cofidis. He arrives without any of his usual sprint train, it will take an act of God for him to win. The rest of the picks are nice and sensible, with Bennett, Ewan and Ackermann all being selected. Ben’s gone with the German, but he doesn’t have his trusted lead out man at his side. No Rudi Selig is huge for Ackermann. This should be a straight fight between Bennett and Ewan, the little Aussie just has the edge so far this season. Looking at QuickStep, they have a ridiculously strong sprint train, this is why I’m going with Sam Bennett. It’s not often riders like Asgreen, Jungels, Štybar, Lampaert and Mørkøv get it wrong.