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 6: Sorgues to Apt (161.5km)
Heartbreak for Jan Tratnik one hundred metres from the line to Stage 5, but how many times have we seen that before? Sometimes you can beat the peloton, but not often. Almost as impressive as Tratnik’s heroic all-day fight to the finish was Niccolo Bonifacio’s pocket-pick of the sprinters. The Italian, who ought to have been looking forward to Milan-Sanremo, darted ahead of Peter Sagan and Iván García Cortina to score the biggest victory of his career. It was also the first WorldTour win for his team, Direct Energie, since Jérôme Cousin took a stage of his own at Paris-Nice in 2018.
Onto Stage 6. Not quite the high mountains but with four category two climbs, including one more than 10 kilometres in length, today certainly provides the first test for the climbers. With a minute in hand, Max Schachmann just needs to hold on and the best place for his rivals to make that time back looks like it will come on the Valdeblore La Colmiane on Saturday. Should the GC showdown indeed be saved for Saturday’s summit finish, we could well see an opportunity or two for any baroudeurs further down the order today. Our panel isn’t so sure…
Ian Cleverly: Sergio Higuita – EF Pro Cycling
Well, what a topsy turvy race this is. Cortina? Bonifazio? You’re having a laugh. Or you’re a very shrewd / deluded punter. Meanwhile, back in the real world, Higuita needs to make his move today if he’s going to challenge for honours. And there’s some lumps and bumps for him to make that move on. Go Sergio!
Andy Hill: Romain Bardet – AG2R
Stage 6 looks like a very lumpy day in the saddle. One for the climbers especially French ones. Looking for Bardet to escape on the descent of the Cote de Auribeau and solo to victory.
Ben Ward: Romain Bardet – AG2R
With Bardet searching for stage wins after a disastrous start to the race and the profile featuring a descent before Stage 6’s final kilometre I’m going for the Frenchman to rescue his race. The descent probably isn’t steep or long enough to make the difference but I feel duty-bound to back the Rouleur columnist for at least one stage.
Andy McGrath: Thomas De Gendt – Lotto-Soudal
Who else but the popular Belgian baroudeur? There’s barely a metre of flat on the route, suiting Thomas’s terrific tank engine. If anything, it’s possibly still too easy for him but if there’s a break, De Gendt is da man.
Miles Baker-Clarke: Thomas De Gendt – Lotto-Soudal
Does anybody else feel like today could be a day for Thomas de Gendt? No? Just me? Seems like just the kind of feat The Gent might just be able to pull off.
Nick Christian: Dylan Teuns – Bahrain-McLaren
Ordinarily it’d take me two seconds to pick Julian Alaphilippe for a parcours like this, but he’s just not looked like he’s had the legs of last year in 2020. Not a dissimilar difficulty to the Dauphiné stage the Bahrain-McLaren rider won last year, and as we’re all duty-bound to pick him at some point, I guess it’s my… Teun. [STOP PRESS: As Bahrain McLaren have withdrawn from the race, Nick has reverted to Alaphilippe for this stage. This decision is final.]
The Cycling Mole’s verdict:
Right, this is getting ridiculous now. I know these punters from Rouleur are used to losing, but I’m not. I know what you’re thinking, you did predict it would be a sprint, but I’m still not happy. Seeing wee Caleb getting a puncture with 2km to go just about broke my heart. Rumour has it, if we don’t manage a stage win in the whole race Rouleur will be dishing out some free subscriptions in way of compensation. Did you hear that? That was the boys in the office choking on falafel.
Stage 6 and it’s breakaway time. In my overall preview for this race, I interviewed the legend that is Thomas De Gendt. Wait a minute, didn’t you know that I write previews (on a different website!)? Anyway, moving on. The great man told me that the perfect breakaway stage is one that is too hard for the sprinters, but not hard enough for the GC guys. Stage 6 is 161.5km long, features six categorised climbs, and includes 2850m of climbing. Without a cat 1 climb, it’s too easy for the big guys, that means it’s time for the break to have their fun. The best climb is actually unclassified, and it comes inside the final 5km. This little beauty is 1.4km at 8.2%, it’s a great way for the stage to be decided and it’s very Paris-Nice in its style.
What do I think will happen? It has to be a day for the break, I see nothing else. Picking the winner of a breakaway stage is like trying to win the lottery, twice. Sorry to be boring, but I’m going with Thomas De Gendt. Did I mention that I’ve interviewed him?
Andy M and Miles know what’s happening, they’ve picked Thomas De Gendt, I bet you they read my preview! Making the breakaway will not be easy, it will be a crazy start to the stage as all teams will have been told to make the move. It seems that I’ve been agreeing with Andy quite a lot this week, which is very unusual. Has the cardigan kid upped his game?
Everyone else thinks that it will be a GC day. Holding this together for a grandstand finish is going to be very difficult, even with eight-man teams. Ben and Andy H are on Bardet, but he’s not looked anywhere near his best this week. I know he crashed on Sunday, but he arrived lacking racing, mainly due to the birth of his first child. Bloody kids. Nick’s on Dylan Teuns, which is a decent shout if it comes back together, as is Ian’s pick of Sergio Higuita, the tiny Colombian packs a big punch. Yet again I’m left scratching my head, as there is no love for Alaphilippe, Schachmann and Benoot from the so-called experts.