The 2021 edition of Paris-Nice will follow a familiar format to 2020, with a short time trial and a penultimate-day summit finish at La Colmiane set to shape the overall classification.
The first-category ascent of La Colmiane – 16.3km at 6.3 per cent – is fast becoming a fixture of the ‘Race to the Sun’, used now for the third time in four years. Simon Yates won there in 2018, while Nairo Quintana did the same last year.
Neither Yates nor Quintana won the overall title, however, and the yellow jersey will be in play throughout, with typical early stages exposed to crosswinds, the time trial on stage 3, a heavy, punchy climbing day on stage 4, and a traditional finale in the hills behind Nice.
The route for the 79th edition of Paris-Nice was unveiled on Wednesday in the department of Les Yvelines, west the outskirts of Paris, which will host the start for the 12th time. The race kicks off on March 7 and will finish on the south coast of France in Nice on March 14.
It opens with a couple of opportunities for the sprinters. Stage 1, which starts and finishes in Saint-Cyr-l’Ecole, features four low-category climbs and plenty more undulations but should end in a bunch finish of some sort.
Stage 2, meanwhile, starts to take the race south from Oinville-sur-Montcient to Amilly on a parcours that is flat but could produce classic Paris-Nice echelons along the exposed country roads in the inclement north of the country.
Crosswinds may or may not have already done some damage, but the first definitively crucial outing for the GC contenders comes on stage 3, with a 14.4km individual time trial in Gien. It’s lightly undulating but with a nasty kick at 6.3 per cent in the final 400 metres.
That sets the tone for an exciting stage 4, which packs in 3500m of elevation gain and finishes on a first-category climb in Chiroubles. The riders will tackle four short category-2 climbs in the opening 85km before tackling a double ascent of Mont Brouilly and the Col de Durbize and finishing at Chiroubles after a 7.3km climb that averages 6 per cent but is highly irregular. Julian Alaphilippe won a time trial that finished on Mont Brouilly (3km at 7.7 per cent) in 2017, and may well fancy his chances here.
“We needed a stage that could open gaps quite early in the race,” said race director François Lemarchand. “The riders tend to take their marks, and it’s up to us to disrupt their habits.”
Stage 5 offers some respite in the form of a flat 203km run along the Rhône river all the way from Vienne to Bollène, where a bunch sprint is almost inevitable.
Stage 6 sees the terrain become lumpy again, with five categorised climbs on the 202km route from Brignoles to Biot. The last of them, however, comes more than 50km from the line, so it’s a possible day for a breakaway or a reduced bunch finish. Rémy di Gregorio won with a late attack on an identical route on the penultimate stage of the 2011 edition.
Then comes the decisive final weekend. First up on Saturday March 13 is the Colmiane summit finish, on a parcours that’s a carbon copy of what turned out to be the final stage of the 2020 edition. The riders tackle the category-1 Col de Vence early on, then the category-2 Col de la Sigale and Côte de Saint-Antonin mid-way through, before the long final climb takes them up to 1500m.
The climb has opened up significant gaps in the past. In 2018, Yates put 46 seconds into eventual winner Marc Soler, while Quintana last year put the same margin between himself and second-placed Tiesj Benoot, with Max Schachmann hanging onto his overall lead despite losing almost a minute.
It wasn’t possible last year due to the race’s premature conclusion amid the pandemic, but the final day of Paris-Nice has produced some exhilarating, down-to-the-wire racing in recent years, notably in 2016, 2017, and 2018, which were all decided by fewer than five seconds. The final stage of the 2021 edition provides the platform for more of the same, with a short 110km stage in the hills behind Nice.
Mirroring the 2019 finale, where Ion Izaguirre won the stage and Egan Bernal sealed the yellow jersey, there are six climbs, including the famous Col d’Èze (1.6km at 8.1 per cent). That is the final officially categorised climb but it is followed by the Col des Quatres Chemins and a descent to the finish on the Promenade des Anglais.
Twenty-three teams will make up the Paris-Nice peloton. All 19 WorldTour teams will be there, as will Alpecin-Fenix, who have earned automatic invites to all WorldTour races thanks to their victory in the 2020 ProTeam rankings.
Organisers ASO have handed wildcard invitations to three French ProTeams: Quintana’s Arkéa-Samsic, Total Direct Énergie, and B&B Hotels p/b KTM.