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 2 gave us another thrilling finish and although Ben came close with Ackerman in second, no-one picked Giacomo Nizzolo as the winner. Neither did our “so-called expert”, however, so there’s some consolation. Will anyone do any better today? All but one are banking on a fast finish…
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 3: Chalette-sur-Loing to La Châtre (166.5km)
Paris-Nice may end up providing most of the bike racing we see this spring, but we’re certainly getting our money’s worth out of this one, eh? Yesterday’s echelon-strewn stage saw several GC contenders’ hopes go up in smoke (Including Julian Alaphilippe. Bad luck Mr. Mole) and Deceuninck-Quick Step caught napping in the crosswinds. Of the few fastmen to arrive at the finish in the front group Giacomo “nearly man” Nizzolo surprised us all – poking his head out into the wind at just the right moment to take the biggest victory of his career. Who’d have thought a move to NTT would provide the rejuvenation his career needed?
Stage 3 is the second longest of the race and while crosswinds could again stir the pot, it seems pretty likely that this one will come down to a bunch sprint. Famous last words?
Andy Hill: Peter Sagan – Bora-Hansgrohe
Rolling roads, big headwind should mean any break won’t get too far ahead. Will come back together and will be a strong man’s finish. I think this could be a win for Peter Sagan.
Ben Ward: Caleb Ewan – Lotto-Soudal
The Australian rarely seems to win at the first sprint opportunity but his bouncebackability means he often profits when there is another one the next day so I’m picking the diminutive Lotto Soudal man to get the win on Stage 3.
Andy McGrath: Caleb Ewan – Lotto-Soudal
It’s a big if given the weather, but if things go as expected, this has bunch sprint written all over it. I think Ewan’s got the form, the legs and a lead-out that’s slightly better dialled than Bennett, possibly still fine-tuning his process in the first few races. Considered plumping for Cees Bol as a surprise option, but that’s madness…
Miles Baker-Clarke: Jasper Stuyven – Trek-Segafredo
Having just missed out on stage-2 honours, both Ackermann and Stuyven have a bone to pick with another pancake-flat stage. But as it’s due to be a wet one, my pick has to be Stuyven, with years of Belgian grit to apply to a potentially moist stage.
Nick Christian: Sam Bennett – Deceuninck-Quick Step
Like a bad roulette player, I’m doubling down on my Stage 2 losses. Wind might be forecast again but something I don’t think will be repeated is Deceuninck Quick Step getting caught out for the second time in a row.
The Cycling Mole’s verdict:
Turns out a well-timed fart causes echelons in this part of France. The wind didn’t really blow today, but the pressure on the front of the bunch caused splits and a few crashes. It also played havoc with our picks and we head back to the drawing board for stage 3.
The wind today will be stronger than stage 2, with gusts of up to 32mph. The direction of this wind will be WSW, which is a headwind for the majority of the day, but not all of it! From kilometre 195, the bunch will be faced with crosswinds. Making life really interesting, they also ride on a narrow farm track for a couple of kilometres too. This will be a very hard finale to control, and a big bunch sprint is unlikely.
Andy M is going with Caleb Ewan, but says it’s madness to consider Cees Bol. I’ll tell you what madness is, thinking that picking Cees is madness, is madness! My big Dutch pal is an outstanding sprinter and destined for the very top. Okay, rant over. Joining Andy M in team Caleb is Ben, picking the wee Aussie does make sense as he normally copes well with crosswinds, and the finish is slightly uphill. Nick goes with the other big sprinter, Sam Bennett, who has also disappointed in the opening two stages.
Andy H has been lured into picking Sagan, who did look very strong today, but you would have to think he’s still working for Ackermann. Miles is late to the Stuyven party, remember I was on the talented Belgian for stage 1, but it’s a decent shout. What you do need to consider is that Trek are here with Nibali, a rider who has a good chance of winning the yellow jersey. If the bunch splits, Stuyven will need to ensure Nibali is safe before riding for himself.
Just like in the opening stages, I think we’ll see the bunch split and most of the sprinters being disappointed. Sprinters do like windy conditions, not that you would have guessed that today. I’m going to go with a fast man who copes well in echelons, but also doesn’t have a GC man to worry about. Sorry to agree with Andy M and Ben, but today is a day for Caleb Ewan.