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 3 was a nervy old affair. Sam Bennett found himself squeezed into the barriers in the finale and had nowhere to go but down. Although that ruled him out none of his main rivals could bring home the bacon either. Andy Hill came closest with his selection of Sagan – the Slovakian is looking better at this stage of the season than he has in years – with Cycling Mole’s choice of Caleb Ewan crossing the line last of the front group in 60th place.
Paris-Nice 2020 – Stage 4: Saint-Amand-Montrond to Saint-Amand-Montrond (15.1km individual time trial)
Stage 4 is a time trial located on the “n” of France. There’s really not much more to say about it than that, but it could ultimately prove decisive in terms of the GC. Whether or not Max Schachmann wins the stage, a decent showing here could well put the overall victory in sight, or at least buy him valuable seconds for when the race hits the mountains above the Côte d’Azur. Or should that be if it hits them…
For the stage itself there are a few talented race of truthers to choose from, but do our pundits know who’s got the form for the course? Missing for the first three stages, Ian Cleverly is back. With no scores on the board, he could yet snatch the win.
Ian Cleverly: Dylan Teuns – Bahrain McLaren
The times they are a-changin’. Teuns won the TT at Vuelta Andalucia over a similar distance back in February and came close on the opening stage here, so looks like a solid punt for this test against the clock.
Andy Hill: Julian Alaphilippe – Deceuninck-Quick Step
Very short time trial with a hill on it finishing in the home town of Julian Alaphilippe. Let me think about that for a nanosecond. It’s got to be his for the taking.
Ben Ward: Victor Campanaerts – NTT
After Nizzolo’s surprise victory, I’m hoping NTT will be free from the limited tactics of hoping for Edvald Boassen Hagen to roll back the years. Their Belgian Victor Campanaerts is one of those odd transfers that takes you half the season to get used to, but he is one of the most prominent TT specialists in the race and I’m going with him to pip Bob Jungels.
Andy McGrath: Max Schachmann – Bora-Hansgrohe
For the way he bridged to the leaders on the opening stage, the imperious, improving manner he’s ridden in the last year and how handy he is in shortish, lumpy-ish time-trials. His compadre Asgreen will go well too, if he isn’t knackered from domestique duty.
Miles Baker-Clarke: Stefan Küng – Groupama-FDJ
While the bumps in stage 4 are not to be ignored, my feeling is that they will not be enough to drag the climbers to the fore, especially on a time-trial bike. This stage is still going to belong to the specialists so why not Stefan Küng? As the current national time-trial champion of Switzerland, Küng’s rock-solid pedaling style is likely to make him as formidable as it is mesmerising
Nick Christian: Stefan Küng – Groupama-FDJ
In TT’s this year, he’s only been beaten by Rohan Dennis and Remco. Does that make him the third best tester in the world? Küng’s been pretty visible this week working for Pinot, but I’m confident the Swiss roller (no-one’s ever called him that before, right?) has still got the legs for this course.
The Cycling Mole’s verdict:
Another day of firing blanks for all concerned. The peloton tried their best to split the race up in the closing kilometres, but the wind didn’t play ball, for the first time this week. Stage 4 is the race against the clock, surely one of us has to pick the winner.
We have a classic Paris-Nice time trial, one that offers the climbers some hope. The majority of the opening 7km is uphill, gradients aren’t steep, but punchy riders can put time into the heavier TT specialists. A fast descent of 5km follows, one where riders won’t need their brakes, or even their pedals! This means taking any time back will be very difficult, but the final 3km is flat and does offer some hope to the big ring grinders. Who wins this stage, puncheur, GC rider, or TT expert?
The Rouleur panelists are split – they don’t know what to do! Ben, Nick and Miles go with the classic picks, Campenaerts and Küng. Will they climb fast enough to win this stage? I have my doubts. Ian is siding with Dylan Teuns, fresh from winning the punchy TT in Andalucía. Not a bad pick, but not a great one either. The quality of opponent is much higher in Paris-Nice. Andy H and Andy M also agree that a punchy rider wins this one, going with Alaphilippe and Schachmann. The Frenchman has extra motivation, this is his hometown, that will give him some extra fire in his belly. Schachmann was 4th in the recent Algarve TT and won an uphill TT in the Basque Country back in 2019.
I’ll agree with Ian, Andy H and Andy M, this has to be a route that favours the punchy riders. The person who sets the fastest intermediate time, after 7km of mostly climbing, will win this stage. As the TT is only 15km, we could see a surprise win for someone like Bettiol or Kragh Andersen, but I think the form riders will take the day. A second stage win for Max Schachmann.