The Rouleur team will be spending hours each week poring over form guides, weather forecasts and stages profiles, all in an inevitably fruitless attempt to give themselves some sort of edge over their rivals.
We were going to keep it to the one-day classics and Grand Tours but a certain inconsiderate global pandemic has rather put the kibosh on those plans. Stepping up this week is Paris-Nice – the Race to the Sun.
Our old adversary, the Cycling Mole, is once again on hand to rain on our parades, taking us to task and mercilessly mocking our selections.
Paris-Nice 2020 – Stage 7: Nice to Valdeblore La Colmiane (166.5km)
Hey look at us. Who would have thought? Not me. Did the organisers of Paris-Nice take a risk by going ahead with the race? Of course they did. But was everyone involved a grown-up, given the option of staying home? Sure. And some took it and we respect that. But in a month’s time, when Milan-Sanremo, De Ronde and Paris-Roubaix weekends have passed us by, whether or not by then we’re through the worst of it, we’re going to be thankful that we had this one week of top class racing in 2020.
A big win for Benoot on a hilly Stage 6 saw smart team-riding deliver a one-two for Sunweb. It also put the Belgian in contention for the GC as we head into what now will be the final stage.
Stage 7 will start in Nice with little fanfare and few crowds, but there’s sure to be fireworks on the final climb. The smart money’s on Nairo, but could someone else spring a surprise?
Ian Cleverly: Nairo Quintana – Arkea Samsic
Quintana’s done naff all this week thus far, but then he’s not had much suitable terrain to strut his stuff. The 16km 1st cat climb we finish the race on is right up Nairo’s alley, and he seems somewhat invigorated by the move away from Movistar.
Ben Ward: Sergio Higuita – EF Pro Cycling
So far the prodigious Colombian has looked eminently comfortable on stages where he was not expected to. Although this finish isn’t at the altitude that would give him a real advantage, I fully expect my pick for the overall to dominate once he gets into his element as the road turns upwards.
Andy McGrath: Nairo Quintana – Arkea Samsic
Already shown he’s a man to beat on mountain finishes in 2020 and he’s not been suffering in the crosswinds for nothing, even if GC seems out of the question. I think being over two and a half minutes down on Schachmann could play into his hands if GC contenders start getting cagey and looking at each other.
Miles Baker-Clarke: Thibaut Pinot
With a finish that steep, we’ve got to look to the climbers to deliver the fireworks. With the Grand Tours imminent, I reckon Pinot will have the punch to distance the others
Nick Christian: Sergio Higuita – EF Pro Cycling
Hard to see past the two Colombians, although it’s almost impossible to choose between them. I’m giving the young gun on the WorldTour team the edge, but it’s based on little more than a coin flip. On the last day of racing until who knows when I think we can expect another showstopper of a finale. Come back soon, cycling.
The Cycling Mole’s verdict:
I promised a breakaway stage, but thanks to the final stage getting cancelled, it meant we had a GC day. The stage was won by my old pal, Tiesj Benoot, my mum’s favourite rider. Have I ever told you about my podcast with him?
Stage 7 is now the final stage, and probably the last bike race for a very long time. We’ve still not recorded a win yet, and if we fire another blank tomorrow they’ll be free subscriptions for 10 lucky people.
This stage ends with a mountaintop finish, a very long one. With a tiny peloton, strange things could happen, but I’ll go for another GC day. In terms of the picks, if you aren’t picking Nairo Quintana then you need to see the doctor. With two stage wins and two GC titles already this year, it’s not a question of if he wins, it’s how much he wins by.
Ian and Andy are on the same page, I promised to stop agreeing with the cardigan kid! The other picks are Pinot and Higuita. Sorry boys, but Nairo’s going to smash. See you in 2021.