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.
Paris-Nice 2020 – Stage 5: Gannat to La Côte-Saint-André (227km)
Stage 4 was the snoozefest we all expected. The winner, Soren Kragh Andersen, was something of a surprise, although Cycling Mole did mention the Sunweb rider yesterday, so presumably he’ll claim some sort of moral victory. Even though he didn’t actually pick him. Max Schachmann came close to his second stage win, which means another second for Andy McGrath. A miss is as good as a mile, however, and our podium only has one step. Schachmann’s runner-up spot did consolidate his place in the leader’s jersey, however. I wonder which of our panel put him down for the overall?
Stage 5 is a classified as a “flat”. Cue sceptical emoji. For when one glances at the profile one quickly spies four categorised climbs – including the category 2, Côte de Busset. It does come pretty early in the stage, however, so presumably the organisers are expecting everyone to still be asleep and it all to come back together immediately after. From there the stage makes a bee-line La Côte-Saint-André, straight past the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lyon. A couple of little lumps to contend with should prove no problem for the pack. Bunch finish, surely?
Ian Cleverly: Pascal Ackermann – Bora-Hansgrohe
The longest stage at 227km and no major lumps en route, so in theory we have a bunch sprint on our hands. Peter Sagan has not been firing on all cylinders so far. I’d like to see him leading out his German team-mate for Bora’s second stage win of the race. Whether the mercurial former world champ will perform the sideman’s role is, of course, another matter.
Andy Hill: Zdeněk Štybar – Deceuinck-Quick Step
It’s a lumpy stage and could be good for a breakaway that sticks. With that in mind I am going for Zdeněk Štybar.
Ben Ward: Tiejs Benoot – Sunweb
For a non TT specialist, Tiejs Benoot did well in the time trial on Stage 4 and doesn’t have a team leader to look after in the mountains to come so I’m going to bet on an outside win from the break from someone with nothing to lose.
Andy McGrath: Julian Alaphilippe – Deceuninck-Quick Step
Paris-Nice is tough to call, isn’t it? I’m going to play it safe with Julian. With Deceuninck’s strength in numbers and Alaphilippe’s versatility – he can win a sprint or on the attack – he’s got to be a prime candidate for a first win of the year.
Miles Baker-Clarke: Peter Sagan – Bora Hansgrohe
This should – on paper – be a stage for a sprinter who can climb. We’ve seen nothing from Sagan so far, maybe that’s poor form or maybe that’s keeping your powder dry. He’s my pick.
Nick Christian: Peter Sagan – Bora Hansgrohe
No wind to speak of tomorrow and I’m not convinced those hills are early or challenging enough to cook up a breakaway that goes the distance. Sagan’s looked at least as good as any of the other fast guys this week. Worth a tenner of anyone’s money.
The Cycling Mole’s verdict:
Second place, second bloody place. My German machine, Max Schachmann, did a great job but was beaten by a flying Dane. With no one yet to register a score, we move to stage 5. Some will be happy to hear that the bad weather is over, this stage will almost be pleasant for the peloton. If you glance at the stage, you might think it will be a break, but only if you know nothing about cycling. 227km is a long one, but we only have a few categorised climbs along the way. After just one big sprint, the teams of the fast men will be determined to hold the race together and give us one last chance to see the sprinters go head to head.
Andy M and Ben think this will be a GC day, I wonder what’s been on the lunch menu at Rouleur HQ? Is the couscous off? Maybe there’s a problem with the humous. Whatever is going on, those two need to take the rest of the day off. Andy H is betting on the breakaway, at least there’s more chance of that happening than the GC boys winning. Štybar is a solid pick, but the sprint teams would be foolish to let a QuickStep rider get up the road. At least Nick, Miles and Ian are on the right track, they agree that we’ll see a sprint. They are all going for Bora, with a mixture of Ackermann and Sagan. We’ll have to see who the team ride for, but the long stage is surely good news for the former world champion, who was second on Tuesday.
What I can’t believe is that my fellow pundits haven’t considered a certain Aussie. Caleb Ewan is a brilliant sprinter, make the race over 220km and he becomes a magnificent one. Lotto-Soudal are here to win a stage, they’ll control the morning break and the wee man will finish it off. Simples.