Paris-Nice Stage 8 Preview
Daniel Martinez emerged to take the win on the queen stage after a massive climbing performance, beating Miguel Angel Lopez and Nicolas Edet on the Cold de Turini. The climb was marked by Simon Yates and Miguel Angel Lopez attacking and counter-attacking each other, but from that fight surged Martinez, who attacked in the final kilometer with Lopez in the wheel and then in the final meters sprinted away from him, taking his first ever World Tour win. Michal Kwiatkowski lost his lead to Egan Bernal, after Sky paced the whole climb Bernal attacked with Quintana and the Colombians arrived the earliest from the overal contender. Bernal now leads the race with 45 seconds over Phillipe Gilbert who was in the break, and 46 over Quintana.
After only around 40Km of stage did the breakaway establish itself, and with only Sky and Sunweb not represented, 39 riders including Simon Yates, Miguel Angel Lopez, Phillipe Gilbert, Daniel Martinez, Thomas de Gendt, Alessandro de Marchi, Magnus Cort Nielsen and many other got away, leaving Sky to do the chase.
The pace was never slow but Sky never looked in pressure. With only Gilbert as a GC threat the gap was allowed a maximum of 6 minutes, and it remained that way until the final climb when Sky started turning on the gas. In the front de Gendt confirmed his KOM jersey, but besides some little attacks nothing race-defining happened.
In the break, with 9Km to go Simon Yates launched the first attack with Lopez following. And then again, and then when Edet and Martinez joined it was a strategical climb all the way. Yates several times let a gap to Lopez go and then chased back. All the 4 riders put their own attacks. But when Yates attacked with less than 2Km to go and couldn't distance Martinez and Lopez the race suddenly took a turn, Yates didn't have the legs. Martinez attacked shortly after taking Lopez with him. It looked as if Yates was getting back but when Martinez put a dig with 300 meters to go Yates didn't even come close to closing the gap, and Lopez couldn't take the EF rider's pace and had to let go. Martinez absolutely sprinted to the line and captured an amazing win for both him and the team. Edet still caught up with Yates and took the better of him for 3rd place.
In the peloton it was a different story. With Sky leading the climb from top to bottom, the GC contenders faded one by one. Kelderman surprisingly going first, Luis Leon Sanchez and Bob Jungels after, Grossschartner also cracked on the way. With just under 2Km to go, with Sosa leading the group Kwiatkowski was the next victim, with the Pole giving Bernal the green light to go. Sosa's pace was suffocating until the final Kilometer where then Bernal attacked.
Pozzovivo, Bardet and Bennett didn't even have the capacity to accelarate, Haig did but put in a measured, but impressive, ride. Only Quintana was able to go with Bernal. But the Movistar leader saw it was impossible to gap Bernal and the two collaborated until the line. They gained 22 seconds on Haig, 39 on Bardet and 1:21 on Michal Kwiatkowski.
The cards will be played on the classic final run-in to Nice. Another stage start in Nice will see the riders over a somewhat mountainous terrain. Like last year the 1,6Km Col d'Èze and Quatre Chemins combination in the final kilometers should make for a little more damage in the peloton.
The first 3 2nd category climbs should be the pace setter, with lots of attacks from riders looking for their glory and some trying to ambush the overall classification. When we get to the Côte de Peille we might start to get a very serious race in our hands, this climb has seen some of the most inspiring raids by Alberto Contador in the last few years, and last year it was Marc Soler who equaled his countryman's feat with the difference that his raid succeeded in netting him the overall win. Perhaps that spike in the road after La Turbie was the defining point of the race for him.
There is much we can expect from this day, although the route doesn't give in any long mountain we have seen that the Peille is more than enough to settle big gaps, and the two climbs that follow, alongside two fast descents (both to Nice) isn't exactly the type of terrain where one can just have an organized chase, it is raiding territory and with the gaps being settled the day before it is certain that there will be riders wanting more from the race, as only one can win the end.
Is it? Looking at it it's clearly Sky who has the team to raid this stage, but they're always the team in the lead. As much as I'd like I just don't see it happening. Bernal looks the strongest, and with the support of Kwiatkowski, Sosa and Hart who will even have the legs to attack them? It's perhaps a sad reality but it's the one we will likely have tomorrow, only one rider seems strong enough to maybe gap Bernal, Quintana, but he's not particularly an offensive rider, and doesn't have the team to help him.
The Cote de Peille is THE place, there's no other climb were actual gaps can be made, specially as there won't be rain and wind, making it an easier race to control.
Gilbert, Haig, Jungels and the FDJ boys certainly won't move. Perhaps the ever-moving AG2R can try a surprise move on a descent early in the stage, Bardet is the kind of rider who might attack tomorrow, as is George Bennett, but overall they're too far from Bernal to make him move from his Skytrain, where he will likely remain all day.
Then there is Domenico Pozzovivo, perhaps the non-overall rider who is climbing the best. Yates will likely support Haig, whilst Lopez and Martinez will likely also have a free pass, but maybe not the legs after today's grind. But again that favours a breakaway win, not an overall raid, as those riders wouldn't have real reasons to collaborate with Quintana/Bardet in case they got a gap to the Sky men.
So if we are to expect a meaningful and Sky-threatening raid, it can only come from Quintana. That can be an issue for him, but perhaps his somewhat guarranteed podium place may encourage him. That is, if Sky doesn't suffocate the climb like they did today, but in any way Quintana has to go there if he wants to win this race, there is no other way (except a bad crash or badly-timed puncture).
⭐ Martinez, Bennett, Haig, Naesen, Teuns, Jungels, Cort Nielsen
I predict a Bahrain win for tomorrow. Pozzovivo possibly is not a good choice as he has a very weak sprint and no good rolling skills, but I don't know what to expect from tomorrow. Bahrain have Teuns who seems to be lacking in form and Colbrelli who has sprinted in the overall group in Nice, but I think today is gonna be too much for him. Pozzovivo can climb, and he is possibly one of the few riders who will certainly have the legs to come out of the GC group tomorrow in Peille, but with a climbing start he should manage to get in the breakaway. If he does he is a good shot, because his climbing will be superior to everybody's and the stage does require some superb climbing legs. He has no GC commitments so he won't be a marked man, so he'll have freedom.
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