It’s the race to the sun, but they aren’t there yet after cold weather, rain, and legendary wind. The opening stage of the 2017 Paris-Nice was something more akin to the fields and cobbles of Flanders, rather than the suburbs of Paris. High winds, rains, and cold temperatures ravaged the peloton and caused splits early. At the urging of FDJ, the lead group put over a minute into GC favorites likes Alberto Contador, Richie Porte and, more dramatically, Romain Bardet. Bardet missed the split, only to crash some kilometers further on. Television cameras caught him latched to his team car for big stretches, being pushed back to the action. It was eerily similar to Vicenzo Nibali’s actions at the Vuelta, and the repercussions were the same. Bardet was disqualified from the race that night.
FDJ’s aggression was rewarded late on Stage One. When first Bryan Coquard, then Marcel Kittel, then Andre Griepel all were dropped in the final 10km, QuickStep’s Jullian Alaphillipe jumped on a small rise inside the last 3km. Arnaud Demare bridged and, instead of slotting into the wheel, went right around, held the front, and sprinted to the win.
Damage done, the GC men had nothing better to write home about on Stage 2. More wind, more echelons, and more rain, it took its toll. Porte would lose nearly 15 minutes on the day and no hope of winning the overall. In a soggy bunch sprint, Sonny Colbrelli confirmed why he’s the most talked about Italian youngster, giving Bahrain-Merida a taste of success.
Stage Three was, finally, straight forward, although on the results sheet, it was a surprise. Bora-Hansgrohe’s Sam Bennett surprised some of the best sprinters in the world to take a convincing win. Griepel, Kittel, Bouhanni, and the yellow-liveried Demare were a bike length off the pace of the Irish sprinter. Bennett received some solid protection from his team – even Peter Sagan – earlier this year at Tour de San Luis.
The rest of the week includes an oddly short 14.5km time trial Wednesday, but a closer look shows why. The final 3.3km of the route is all uphill at an average grade of 7.7%. After a long and lumpy 200km stage on Thursday, it’s three true mountain stages. Alberto Contador has not looked great, although it’s true the weather and terrain haven’t allowed for much interpretation. Indeed, with all the GC men over 40 seconds down, expect to see riders going from a long way out. At 1:18 down, Contador will have work to move into contention, while Sergio Henao, who survived the melee of Stage One, sits with Dan Martin as the riders in the best positions on GC heading into the climbs.
You can see the final kilometers of Stage Three here.