Heading into its 80th edition from 6th to 13th March 2022, Paris-Nice is set for an historic race with a startlist which features a startling all-star lineup.
Over its 80-year lifespan, the race has seen some of the biggest in the sport take victory – from Jacques Anquetil to Tom Simpson to Eddy Merckx – but it is German road race champion Max Schachmann who is fast becoming the modern day ‘Mr Paris-Nice’ following two wins in a row over the last two years.
The German rider has a long way to go to catch the one and only ‘Mr Paris-Nice’, Irish legend Sean Kelly, who won the race seven years in a row between 1982 and 1988. Cycling history also happened at the 1984 race when Bernard Hinault famously punched a protestor blocking the race.
In more recent times, riders such as Alberto Contador, Geraint Thomas and Bradley Wiggins have all succeeded in taking the crown with six of the last ten races being taken by someone riding for Ineos (or formerly Team Sky).
No wonder, then, that the race has proved a strong indicator of form for the Grand Tour favourites, as crosswinds and hectic sprint stages turn into hilly time trials, punchy finishes and mountaintop finishes.
Taking place over eight stages, Paris-Nice throws up a series of different challenges, from the high wind and unpredictable weather in the flatlands of the north, to the pleasantly warm sun and hellishly steep mountains of the south and the Alps. This year, the race even has a little dip into the Massif Central for the 6th and 7th stage.
Stage 1: Mantes-la-Ville to Mantes-la-Ville (159.8km) 6th March
While its profile makes this stage look like an Ardennes Classic, we’ll expect it to go to the sprinters. However, the final kick of the Côte de Breuil-Bois-Robert could see a late move on the 1.2km climb with an average gradient of 6%.
Stage 2: Auffargis to Orléans (159.2km) 7th March
A far flatter affair for the second day with a bunch sprint set in stone. But of course, it isn’t that simple in Paris-Nice. In the northern part of France in early March winds can be high, with rain frequently pouring down in torrents, meaning this stage could turn from a flat and uneventful procession to total carnage in a blink of an eye.
Stage 3: Vierzon to Dun-le-Palestel (190.8km) 8th March
This stage could be a little bit more awkward than it first appears, with the cluster of short climbs in the second half of the stage. There is even a slight incline to the finish. This could be a day that would suit a puncheur or a sprinter who has decent climbing legs.
Stage 4: Domérat to Montluçon (13.4km) 9th March
This is far from a straightforward time trial. Riders will have to gauge their effort on this undulating course and save something for the 700m climb to the line which averages 8.6%. It may be a short test against the clock, but there could be some race-deciding gaps created here.
Stage 5: Saint-Just-Saint-Rambert to Saint-Sauveur-de-Montagut (188.8km) 10th March
The first proper day for the riders fighting it out for the final victory sees a savage-looking route that includes five categorised climbs including three category ones. Anyone who lost time in the ITT should use this course to their advantage.
Stage 6: Courthézon to Aubagne (213.6km) 11th March
If a stage could be set up perfectly for a breakaway victory, you would imagine that it would look a bit like this. As the race reaches the Mediterranean coast the climbs continue to come with five more on the menu. There's a chance for yet more time gains between the favourites, too.
Stage 7: Nice to Col de Turini - La Bollène-Vésubie (155.4km) 12th March
Making its fourth appearance as a finish in the race to the sun, the Col de Turini is the only summit finish at this year’s race and should be the deciding factor of the final GC. The decisive 14.9km climb that averages 7.3%, likely inflicting some large gaps.
Stage 8: Nice to Nice (115.6km) 13th March
Of course, it wouldn’t be Paris-Nice without a visit to the famous Col d'Èze. It has been a regular feature to see the final climb used as an individual time trial but the stage we see today replaced it in 2016. The stage is short and snappy, potentially opening up very early attacks before the peloton descends to the finish in Nice on the Promenade des Anglais after two years away from the famous street due to Covid-19.
Defending champion, Max Schachmann is set to race and so will be aiming for a third title in a row but he has some stiff competition on the startlist.
Max Schachmann at Strade Bianche 2020 (Photo: LB/RB/CorVos/SWpix.com)
The first one that jumps out has to be three-time Vuelta a España winner, Primož Roglič, who was set to win the race last year before crashing twice on the final stage, thus handing the win to Schachmann.
Roglič isn’t the only man who could win from the list of Jumbo-Visma men, though. Wout van Aert is also down to take part as preparation for the Classics. He finished second in last year’s Tirreno-Adriatico, proving he was capable of being a GC rider.
Nairo Quintana has performed at this race in recent years and will be hoping he can do so again in 2022 as he leads his Arkéa-Samsic team.
Russian climber Aleksandr Vlasov will want his team to keep him close to the front of the peloton in the possible crosswinds and not lose too much time in the time trial to give him a real chance of a podium.
Aleksandr Vlasov at Tour de La Provence 2020 (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)
Jack Haig is building towards a serious attempt at the Tour de France, and Paris-Nice will give us a clear insight into his form, with multiple mountain tests in the race and a challenging time trial — an area he has been targetting for improvement.
UAE Team Emirates has two star riders who could co-lead the team at this race with João Almeida and Brandon McNulty both on the startlist.
When it comes to the sprints, there is a fine selection that have currently got their names down as riding.
Those include Sam Bennett, Sonny Colbrelli, Christophe Laporte, Mads Pedersen, Dylan Groenewegen, Fabio Jakobsen and Jasper Philipsen, to name but a few.
The most obvious choice for the overall victory is Roglič and we think that’s a pretty safe bet. After crashing out of contention on the final stage last year it seems that only Tadej Pogačar is able to beat him.
But on closer inspection of the race’s stages, there are a number in there that Roglič’s teammate, Wout van Aert, should be sweeping up — especially the final stage and, of course, the time trial. Van Aert seems like a solid bet to win against the clock here.
Wout van Aert will be a favourite to sweep stage victories (Photo: Getty Images)
The first battle between Jakobsen and Groenewegen happened at the UAE Tour which was the first time the two Dutch sprinters had locked horns since the horrific crash at the 2020 Tour de Pologne which saw Jakobsen put into a medically induced coma. Jakobsen looked to be the stronger of the two in the UAE, but we look forward to seeing how the battle unfolds at Paris-Nice.
Of course, they also have the likes of Van Aert and Sam Bennett to battle against. Bennett will certainly hope to show he can get the better of Quick-Step AlphaVinyl now he has re-joined Bora-Hansgrohe.
Cover image by Alex Broadway/ASO/SWpix.com