Paris-Nice Stage 7 Preview
Sam Bennett takes win number 2 in the race and number 4 in the season. The Irish sprinter overcame the hard rhythm imposed in the hilly terrain and in a fast finish took a dominant win in front of Arnaud Démare and Matteo Trentin.
A hard start to the stage, with some echelons appearing very soon into it the breakaway dissolved it's number in half and so Pichon (Arkea), Finetto (Delko) and Kirsch (Trek) set out on a windy day adventure. The peloton took the day slowly in the part where the wind affected the most, so after the initial rush there were no more bordure attempts.
When the climbs started coming in Mitchelton and Bahrain soon put their men to work and it was visible how it was damaging the group, leaving names such as Gronewegen, Greipel and Boasson Hagen chasing, unsuccessfuly in the end. Although a hard pace was set out in the climbs, leaving a group of around 60 riders still in contention of the stage, several top names such as Bennett and Ewan were still in the group, and with a headwind into the finish there was no other chance to crack them.
Also a day negatively marked by crashes. A total of 7 riders didn't finish the stage, in the final stages of the day a rock on the road caused Jan Bakelandts and Rafael Valls to hit the deck, the latter having to abandon due to it. And then with just over 3Km to go another big crash took Caleb Ewan and Cristophe Laporte out of contention, two of the favourites to take the win, aswell as some more riders.
And the bonus seconds kept marking the days. With tomorrow featuring the sole high mountain day and the race regularly being settled in a matter of seconds, there have been two riders who have once again mustered their energy into getting some extra buffer into the dreadful final weekend. Kwiatkowski took another 3 seconds on the road, whilst Luis Leon Sanchez took another 5. This already heads up to a tally of 17 bonus seconds for the Pole and 14 for the Spaniard, very important time but it must be taken into account the extra effort it took to get them.
Groupama-FDJ came out in big numbers in the final kilometers in an effort to leadout Démare and they did a perfect job. Démare launched his sprint and it was seeming as though the Frenchman was gonna take it but Bennett came from behind with an immense speed and got another powerful win in the bag.
Looking at Naesen's data, it is very impressive the fact that we saw several sprinters making it over the climbs.
The queen stage of the race, it is a delightful addition to this year's edition, the Col de Turini is a very reputated climb for the Nice/Monaco cycling community, so we should have plenty of rider's knowing it like the back of their hand.
It's arguably the most important day of the race for the majority of riders, a bad day here will through a whole week of work down the drain, and a good day may pay off all the work done. The route is a typical Nice loop, with the finish not being far from the start. The first 170Km will fully be in very rolling terrain which will certainly wear out the legs of many, but the focus of the stage will be the final 15Km where fireworks are to be expected.
This will be a long one, 44 minutes is roughly the time the current KOM holder Rudy Molard took to climb up what should almost the identical segment they will climb on Saturday, so a minimum of 40 minutes will be taken to climb up the mountain. If that will suit some riders more than others, perhaps, but there is a very extensive list of names who will be looking for their chance to shine.
The day overall is not easy at all, none of the climbs before the last are very hard but there are 5 categorized ones, so they will certainly inflict some damage prior to the final effort.
The wind won't be strong tomorrow, a slight headwind/crosswind may affect the final climb but not enough certainly to change anyone's strategy.
So the final climb looks like this. 15.2Km at 7.1% average gradient, and as we can see it's a very constant one. It's a very hard climb, topping out at 1605 meters the height shouldn't be in anyone's favour, but the constant gradients might favour more the type of rider who can pace well more than the explosive ones.
The climb starts off slightly easier, and the harder kilometers come in the final portion, with the final 9.5Km averaging 8%, so it is crucial for everyone to save their energy for the finale and above all pace the climb well, as there will be very few resting spots.
Climbers showdown at long last, who will be up there?
Facing the last few days there seems to be a rider who is having a spotless race and shows no weakness at all, Egan Bernal. The Colombian is 2nd overall only topped by teammate Kwiatkowski by 18 seconds and seems as though he has what it takes to take on yellow at the end of the day.
He is not the only Colombian who looks fit for the stage, Nairo Quintana has also been having a very strong race, riding strongly in the crosswinds and limiting damage on the time-trial to the point where he currently stands in 6th overall, 1:04 away from Kwiatkowski but only 46 seconds away from Bernal. Although not huge, it's a big gap, although he didn't expose himself as much as the youngster he's gonna need an extra gear to claw that time back from the duo. Miguel Angel Lopez is the other Colombian, as a pure climber he must be seen as a favourite for the stage after showing brilliant form last month in Colombia, but the week hasn't gone in his favour so far. We are left thinking if his freedom may be an advantage for him, and if he has the legs to capitalize.
Yesterday's winner Simon Yates is another joker, with the freedom of not being in the GC fight he can also have the pleasure of not being chased, he certainly looks to have the legs, there's not much against him except for the time lost early in the week, leaves us questioning if the time-trial was a lucky fluke or if he'll have the same power in the legs.
The yellow jersey Kwiatkowski is also one to consider, although not a top one he can climb even the highest of mountains very well, and the team will certainly look to protect him with everyone except certainly Bernal. Romain Bardet is another excellent climber who looks somewhat hindered. He is in fact in 10th overall after the time-trial, putting him in a good position, and he has looked strong over the week, we haven't seen him climbing long mountains yet this year but he should be one of the strongest.
There's a whole host of other climbers who will certainly be up there, Kelderman, Jungels and Haig are in the top10 well in GC contention, George Bennett, Ilnur Zakarin right outside. All of them are worthy mentions.
Other climbers who may be in the fight but not on the overall one include Konrad, Ion Izaguirre, a strong duo that can surprise.
And in the top10 we also have Luis Leon Sanchez and Felix Grossschartner who are very decent climbers and will be looking to protect as many places as possible, and may influenciate the riding of other rider who climb better than them.
The quality of the climbers is too big to consider many riders fighting for the win, so here is how they come up in the list:
⭐ Kwiatkowski, G.Bennett, Kelderman, I.Izaguirre
Simon Yates is my call though, I think the climb will be attacked by Quintana and Bernal will follow him blindly, and the strategic play involved will leave Yates isolated in the front at some point. He has the freedom to do the moves and nobody will chase him or just fight for the stage win, so with his current form I'd say he looks the best for tomorrow specially since today he decided to save himself completely by coming in the Gronewegen group, clearly thinking of tomorrow (whilst his team worked in front).
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