Paris-Nice, the first of the true classic stage races has kicked off. First run in 1933, it has seen the likes of Anquetil, Simpson, Merckx, Maertens, Kelly (seven times!) Indurain and Jalabert top the podium. (Let’s not mention Frigo, Vino, Jaksche and Landis.)
The race, which courses ever southward to Nice and the gorgeous Bay of Angels is a tough test on the road, but usually even a tougher test with the weather. Indeed, the race didn’t want anyone to feel too spoiled even on Day 1. The coureurs were met with a stern glare from Mother Nature for the 9.3 kilometre prologue in wet and miserable Amilly – actually some kilometres south of Paris.
PEZ: How’d it go, Dan?
Dan: Let’s just say that I’m never gonna be a prologue specialist! I finished in the second half of the field. I think I lost a lot of times on the corners, I was very cautious, it was wet and slippery and I was taking no chances – I still averaged 28/29 mph, though. Time trials of this distance are too short for me, I rode a poor Tour of Britain prologue, two years ago; but I was reasonably happy with the time trial I rode in the Tour of Belgium, last year when I was around 40th out of 150 plus starters. I need to train on my time trial bike too, that’s one of the ways to improve.
‘I’m never gonna be a Prologue specialist!’
PEZ: What were the parcours like?
Dan: Flat; we rode a horseshoe shaped route, not that technical, but like I said, it looked very slippery to me – it hammered down with rain for the whole race.
Bradley Wiggins put in a smoking time, but…
PEZ: What’s your role and expectation for the rest of the race?
Dan: To learn; look after Haussler on the flat stages – he was super strong at Gent and Kuurne and he won two stages in the Tour of the Algarve; and look after our GC guys, Cuesta and Marchante.
He was no match for the rocket powered Alberto Contador.
Dan: When I saw Bradley was fastest, I thought; ‘that’s it!’ Then Contador put seven seconds into him; he’s a climbing specialist and here he is beating all the prologue guys with not a hill in sight!
It wouldn’t be Alberto Contador without some hand gunning.
Stage Two: Cervelo take the stage, Contador retains the lead.
PEZ: Not a bad day for Cervelo, Dan.
Dan: Yeah, the stage and the points jersey for Heinrich Haussler; I said that he’s going super-well.
What? No real rain or snow to speak of?
PEZ: Was it drier today?
Dan: It was nice day, a bit chilly at the start, initially we were just going to start with arm warmers, then we saw all the other teams had long sleeve jerseys on – our bus must have been parked in the sun! I soon warmed up though, the parcours were flat, but it was pretty windy in the last 40/50 K.
PEZ: Did you have to do much work for Heinrich today?
Dan: A bit, it split and we were driving it to isolate the guys that were caught behind, but Astana had it pretty well under control. I ended up in a ditch today; I had to through myself into it to miss a crash – I just aimed for something soft! By the time I’d sorted that out, it was too late to get involved in helping set up the sprint.
PEZ: You lost Marchante today.
Dan: Yeah, he was the main guy that came down in the crashes, I tried to help him move back up, but he was pointing at his elbow and shaking his head, so he wasn’t right.
PEZ: What’s the Cervelo plot tomorrow?
Dan: We have the team meet in the bus before the start, but it’ll be pretty much as today I’d imagine, try and keep it together for Heinrich, he’s the best sprinter in the race.
Yes, I like this Green Jersey very much. Can I reserve some more time in July?
PEZ: Did Haussler impress at the team training camp?
Dan: It wasn’t really structured like that, it was all group rides, with the emphasis on bonding and riding as a team; the management didn’t want to introduce rivalries within the squad. With the results we’ve produced so far, it’s obviously a philosophy that worked. Jean Paul (van Poppel, DS) said last night that with five wins coming in to Paris – Nice there’s not a lot of pressure on the team. The top management are really happy with how we’ve opened the season; after this there’s even less pressure on us, supposing we do nothing else in the race, it’s been good for us.
PEZ: Champagne tonight?
Dan: I would have thought so!
Stage Three: Rabobank deploy thermo-nuclear weapons, but Chavanel snaffles the stage and relieves Bert of the jersey.
PEZ: A tad wild today, Dan?
Dan: It was wet and freezing; I had six layers on and I was still cold.
The parcours weren’t too hard; there was a climb at 50 K and me Serge Pauwels and Inigo Cuesta went to the front to get time back on the break, they had seven minutes at that stage and we were trying to set up the finish for Heinrich. We descended very fast, 80/90 kph and at the bottom there was a crosswind; that’s where Rabobank began to drive it – there were bodies everywhere! I finished in a group with Pinotti and Pereiro.
Dan doesn’t look too excited.
PEZ: What had been the plan before the start?
Dan: We were to set it up as a bunch sprint for Heinrich; if you have the best sprinter in the race, that’s what you want to do. He won the bunch sprint today and still has the point jersey.
Contador looks even less excited. I bet there weren’t too many kind words around the Astana table last night after yesterday’s unfortunate result.
PEZ: Rabobank were impressive, but didn’t get the cigar.
Dan: I know what you’re saying, but if you look at the GC now, they have second and third with Garate and Flecha; at the start their best was Posthuma in sixth, so it was a good day’s work for them.
Rabobank gave the field a thrashing in Stage 3.
PEZ: Marchante has a broken elbow.
Dan: I didn’t realise until after the stage; he rode the last 60 K in that condition – hardcore!
Yep, Dan is still wet.
Dan: It’s pretty hilly tomorrow – there are six third cat climbs – we think it’ll be a group of 30-40 and hope to have Heinrich there; he’s a good sprinter, but he can get up the hills well too.
Sylvain Chavanel came up the big winner in Stage 3. He got the stage and…
…the Yellow Jersey! It will be interesting to see how Chavanel defends it. It seems possible that he could take it all the way, doesn’t it?
PEZ: How does this compare to the races you rode for DFL and AN Post?
Dan: It’s another level altogether; but the stages so far haven’t really suited me, I’m not really happy on the flat – I prefer the hills.
Dan will get his wish tomorrow with the Race to the Sun heading ever further south as it takes in the 174 saw tooth kilometres of stage four, from Vichy to Saint Etienne – stay tuned!