Paris-Nice: Beyond the GC

Just because the race for the overall at Paris-Nice was less than a nail-biter didn’t mean that the race didn’t have any good stories.

First Wins

Paris-Nice saw a lot of good results from proven contenders like Erik Dekker, Gilberto Simoni, Bobby Julich, and Jens Voigt, but three winners marked important firsts in their careers.

23-year-old Spaniard Vicente Reynes (Illes Belears) stepped out of Alejandro Valverde’s shadow to ride to a bunch sprint win in Stage 3, part of a confusing and alarming new trend of capable Spanish sprinters. The third-year pro’s previous best result was a second place in Stage 1 of last year’s Ruta del Sol.

Dutch hope Joost Posthuma (Rabobank), who was already visible in the early Belgian races, scored his first professional win in fine style on Stage 6. Posthuma was part of an early headbanger break that went away after just 5k of the 184k haul from LaCrau to Cannes. He rode away alone after catching sole remaining early break companion Jorg Ludewig (Domina Vacanze) on the final climb, the Col du Tanneron. Posthuma flew down the backside of the Tanneron, taking so many chances that he eventually missed a corner, but kept his feet in the pedals and managed to contort himself back onto the road. After that, it was all tailwinds as the 24-year-old streaked into Cannes.

Stage 7 was hardly the first win for the prolific Valverde (Illes Belears), but it was a notable first nonetheless. The all-rounder—probably the peloton’s most versatile rider since the departure of Laurent Jalabert two years ago—finally notched his first victory outside of his native Spain. It was inevitable, of course, but the peloton has to be worried. With an away win finally on the board, Valverde is officially on the loose, and there are plenty of races out there that will suit him.

Dawn of the ProTour

Paris-Nice, as everyone has mentioned, officially marks the start of the ProTour era. Could you tell? I couldn’t, and that’s a good thing, since it never really promised earth-shaking changes to the racing itself. Supposedly, it should have amped up the racing by mandating the participation of the best teams, but poor field quality hasn't really been a big problem for Paris-Nice in the past. I guess we'll see when we roll around to some of the less traditional races.

There didn’t seem to be much visible impact, aside from Axel Merckx and others getting fined for taking their helmets off on the climb of Mt. Faron, which, though allowed last year and in some races this year, isn’t allowed in ProTour races. Well, as long as the rules are clear and easy to understand…

Of course, by winning the GC at Paris-Nice, Bobby Julich became the first leader of the ProTour. He’s already lost that distinction to Oscar Friere, who won 3 stages and the GC at Tirreno-Adriatico, and I’m sure it’s an afterthought to winning Paris-Nice, but it has to be nice for him anyway. After all, there aren’t many big prizes in cycling that an American has been the first to hold. If the ProTour structure lasts more than a year, that may become significant, in a record book kind of way.

One bizarre thing about the ProTour leader’s jersey is that it is the only leaders jersey in cycling that you can lose to someone riding in a different race at the same time you’re racing somewhere else. All the others--race leader's jerseys, the old World Cup jersey--your competition was there at the same race with you, or sitting it out. Not gathering points for the same competition somewhere else. Julich lost his ProTour jersey, earned in France, to a guy who was racing in Italy at the same time. Not even CSC can defend against those tactics.


Even though he didn’t take the overall, I don’t think there’s any doubt that Jens Voigt was the strongest rider at Paris-Nice. After winning the prologue and losing the leader’s jersey on Stage 1, he settled back into a role as one head of CSC’s multi-pronged attack. But even though he remained high on GC, he never rode like he was, burying himself every day on the front for the team.

Simply put, the guy is an ox, and will probably find a team to ride for as long as he wants to work. Julich has promised to pay him back with interest at the Criterium International, which is certainly a race that suits him. Here’s hoping he gets his due.

Let It Snow, Part I

Snow in the opening days of the race kept things from really getting rolling early, as Stages 2, 3, and 4 were shortened to varying degrees. All told, 284.5 kilometers were hacked off of the 2005 edition, leaving a paltry 947.5k remaining.

The biggest casualty was Stage 2, which slimmed down by 144.5 kilometers, leaving a 46.5k jaunt for Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) to finish off. Boonen crossed the line in 53:31, for a shocking 52.13kph average speed.

Let It Snow, Part II

With every mention of the slippery, icy roads at Paris-Nice, Cadel Evan’s (Davitamon-Lotto) collarbones flashed before my eyes. But the heir apparent to the Tyler Hamilton/Alex Zulle mantle of two-wheeled instability seems to have turned over a new leaf, keeping things upright all the way to the line while taking enough risks to finish a respectable 8th in Nice. Now that he’s extracted himself from T-Mobile, who dealt with his asphalt magnetism by keeping him at home in bubble wrap for most of the 2004 season, maybe he’ll finally live up to the promise he showed in the 2002 Giro.

Armstrong’s Departure

He wasn’t in great shape at the start. Then he got sick. Then he left. How have people been talking about this for a week?