Last year Bradley Wiggins came as the big favorite and won. This year it’s very open! Looking at the start list, I see at least four riders with an equal chance of winning. Let’s take a look at them.
Tejay van Garderen has already shown good shape in San Luis and despite the last time trial being on Col d’Eze and not a flat one, I would be very surprised not to see the young American on the final podium. BMC have a strong team of riders to protect TJ on the flat - and windy - stages and according to TJ himself he’s climbing very well these days. It will be difficult for TJ to stay with the pure climbers like Robert Gesink and Nairo Quintana on the final climb on stage 5, but he shouldn’t lose more than he can take back in the time trial. Of course he can’t afford to lose a minute or more, but if he can minimize his time lose to 30-45 seconds I think he’ll end up winning the race.
For Robert Gesink it’s the complete opposite scenario. He needs to gain as much time as possible on the climb and then hope its’ enough to keep strong time trialists like TJ, Talansky and Westra behind him in the GC. Blanco have sent a strong team to support Gesink and especially Kelderman and Kruijswijk will be vital on stage 5. Alberto Contador managed to distance number two (Fränk Schleck) with almost a minute on La Montagne de Lure in 2009 and Gesink probably needs to do the same if he wants to win overall. Together with Nario Quintana he’s my favorite for the stage win that day, but will it be enough?
While TJ needs to minimize the gap on the climb and Gesink needs to minimize the gap on the time trial, I think Andrew Talansky could be the full package. Talansky is strong on the climbs and the uphill time trial suits him perfectly. He has had a great winter season and he always gets better when the rest of the field are getting tired. Talansky was less than a second from beating Bradley Wiggins in the time trial in Tour de Romandie last year and he distanced Robert Gesink on most of the tough climbs in the Vuelta. If Talansky comes to the last three stages without any bad luck or time losses, he will be very difficult to beat, I reckon.
If anybody can beat him though, it’s Lieuwe Westra. The Vancasoleil captain got a big breakthrough in Paris-Nice last year where he won on Mende and finished second on the Col d’Eze time trial (just two seconds behind Wiggins) and according to Westra he’s actually feeling stronger this year. The big question here is if Westra can keep up with the best on La Montagne de Lure. On a good day, he shouldn’t lose more time than he can get back in the time trial, but if he doesn’t have one of his best days, I’m afraid he can only fight for the lower spots on the podium.
The last couple of years I’ve been praising Rein Taaramae but being sick just a few weeks before the race, I doubt he will do much damage. That doesn’t mean Cofidis won’t be in the front though. Buying in new strong riders to help Alberto Contador, Team Saxo-Tinkoff couldn’t effort to keep Daniel Navarro at his current salary, so instead he went to try his luck as team leader of Cofidis. So far it’s been one of the best decisions in Navarro’s career as he has started out the season in a great way. He stayed with the best on the climbs in Ruta del Sol where he finished 10th overall and just a few days later he won Vuelta a Murcia. Navarro is not good in the wind, but if he can manage to position himself up front in the flat stages and come to mountain stage without a significant time loss I think he can do some real damage. The climbs in this race suits him very well and he really likes Col d’Eze too. Last year he surprise quite a few - myself included - when he finished 11th on the that time trial and being a lot stronger this year and having to prove himself as team leader, I think Navarro is set for minimum top5 overall.
Before ending this preview, I would like to point out Nairo Quintana again. I know I already said it many times last year, but this guy is a future Grand Tour winner. He makes the toughest climbs look like nothing and I won’t hesitate to pick him to win stage 5. If Quintana really has a great day he can distance the rest of the field with about a minute on this stage and if he can attack Col d’Eze the same way he actually has a chance of winning this race overall. The way I see it, Nairo Quintana can either win Paris-Nice of end around top5-10. With strong time trialists like TJ, Talansky and Westra, winning might be too much to ask for, but I’m sure Quintana will show you why he needs to be mention among the race favorites.
As always, I have a few jokers too. First up is Ion Izagirre. The Basque fighter showed in the Giro last year that is to be taking seriously and he has started out this season in a very strong way. He finished 4th overall in Tour Down Under and put it some strong attacks in Ruta del Sol where he ended 15th overall. He can count on support from his brother Gorka and pure climber Mikel Nieve who also did well in Ruta del Sol. Izagirre is good in the short prologs and the climbs in Paris-Nice suit him just fine. He won’t win this race, but I’m sure you will notice him.
My second joker is Maxime Monfort. He was very close to winning Tour Med overall, but couldn’t keep up with Thomas Löfkvist on the steep climb. Monfort was also hit by the stomach flu that kept many riders from doing their best but I’m sure he will be ready for Paris-Nice. Last year he finished 7th overall and despite a significant stronger field this year, I still think he will finishi in close to Top10. The big climb isn’t too steep for Monfort and the final time trial on Col d’Eze shouldn’t be too much for him either. Monfort is good against the clock and he’s never too far off on the climbs.
Like I wrote in the beginning, the field for Paris-Nice 2013 is very strong and the race very open! I think the winner will be one of the first four mentioned, but there is a large group of riders ready to challenge them. Here I’ll try to give my view on the final classification:
1. Tejay van Garderen
2. Andrew Talansky
3. Robert Gesink
4. Lieuwe Westra
5. Daniel Navarro
6. Nairo Quintana
7. Richie Porte
8. Jakob Fuglsang
9. Denis Menchov
10. Ion Izagirre
11. Michele Scarponi
12. Jean-Christophe Peraud
13. Maxime Monfort
14. Peter Velits
15. Rui Costa
16. Bart de Clercq
17. Gorka Izagirre
18. Mikel Nieve
19. Simon Spilak
20. Sylvain Chavanel