|This year's route for Paris-Nice.|
One could argue that the course favors riders like Tony Martin and Bradley Wiggins, but with steep stages finishes like the one on Mende, suddenly Alejandro Valverde becomes the favorite – or what? Here is my view on the favorites for Paris-Nice 2012.
I’m changing the set-up for my usual “Favorites”-pieces a bit, so instead of picking out three guys I will let you know which riders I see have a possible change of winning the race. First of those is naturally Alejandro Valverde. He was super strong in Andalucía and even though the peloton is stronger in Paris-Nice, I still find three stages with a finish perfect for Valverde. Remember there are 10 bonus seconds for each stage win. Before his ban Valverde had developed some pretty good time trial skills and I know he has been working hard on improving in this discipline during his ban. Still I doubt he is back at his former level against the clock and compared to some of the other strong riders, I think he will lose valuable time on the last stage.
One of the guys Valverde will lose time to is Bradley Wiggins. The British champion did an outstanding job in Volta ao Algarve, working hard for Richie Porte on the mountain stage and beating Tony Martin while winning the time trial. In February Wiggins said he was feeling stronger than ever before this time at year and if he can keep track of Valverde and minimize the gap on Mende he has a very good change of taking his first big stage race win.
Tony Martin won the race last year, but that was mainly because of his class in the long time trial. This year the two time trials both count less than 10 km and the climbing part definitely doesn’t favor Tony Martin compared to Wiggins and the others. Tony Martin still did well in Volta ao Algarve and if a dog hadn’t crossed the road in the time trial, making Tony Martin hit the brakes, I’m sure he would have won that stage. That means the shape is good and even though he may not win Paris-Nice this year, you mustn’t count him out too early.
Now it’s getting interesting, because here is my joker for the overall win; Rein Taaramae! Everyone following me know I have high expectations for Taaramae this year, but so does he. “I’m here to win, nothing else. The course suits me very well and the short, hilly time trials are in my favor. The whole team is working for me and I think I can win” – that’s not Valverde, Wiggins or Martin saying this, but Estonian Rein Taaramae – look out for him! I will honestly be very surprised if Taaramae doesn’t end on the final podium and from there everything is possible!
Another outsider for the overall win is Janez Brajkovic. The Astana captain hasn’t many race kilometers in the legs so far this year but this is a course that really suits the Slovenian. Brajkovic is good against the clock and on his best days he can stay with the top-climbers as well. Anything but a spot on the final podium with Janez Brajkovic would be a lack of ambitions from the Astana team and if Brajkovic is ready, I think he could surprise quite a few with an early season win.
Last rider on my paper with the status “winner candidate” next to him is Andreas Klöden. It may be a conservative pick, but Klöden is always good in Paris-Nice and the two time trials are very good for him. He knows Col d’Eze extremely well and if he rides like last year, he will be difficult to shake off. My only concern is that Klöden wasn’t very good in Volta ao Algarve last month, but if he is back at his normal “early-season-level” he should be a strong contender for the overall win too.
Well, that was my 6 winner candidates. I could go on with guys like Tejay Van Garderen, Levi Leipheimer, Richie Porte, Denis Menchov and Jerome Coppel who all are great in the time trials and the uphill sections, but I had to stop somewhere. So to make a long story short, if possible at this point, here is how I think the final Top10 will be:
1. Rein Taaramae
2. Bradley Wiggins
3. Alejandro Valverde
4. Janez Brajkovic
5. Andreas Klöden
6. Tony Martin
7. Tejay Van Garderen
8. Jerome Coppel
9. Bauke Mollema
10. Richie Porte
I picked out Oscar Gatto as a surprising winner of Strade Bianche and I keep on with the surprises in taking Rein Taaramae to win Paris-Nice. Oscar Gatto almost pulled it off, hadn’t it been for an outstanding Fabian Cancellara. Let’s see if Rein Taaramae has more luck. Many pick Alejandro Valverde as their favorite, but as I said, I still doubt his time trial skills a little bit. One thing is training another is racing and Alejandro Valverde hasn’t really been racing many time trials recently. Still, if his old time trial abilities are intact, of course he is the number one favorite to win Paris-Nice.
It’s going be a very close race this year and I wouldn’t be surprised if only seconds separate the three riders on the final podium.