Time Trial to the Sun

Paris-Nice, the first major stage race of the season got underway yesterday with an 8 kilometre prologue time trial. It was won by the young Dutch rider Lars Boom who’s stock seems to be growing further after his transition to road racing from cyclo-cross last season. The main favourites needn’t be too worried as they all finished within 30 seconds of Boom. In fact only once in the past 10 years has the winner of the prologue of Paris-Nice gone on to take the overall prize, that was Jorg Jaksche in 2004.

The past two editions of the Race to the Sun have been two of the most exciting stage races I’ve ever watched. Last year was the dramatic collapse of Alberto Contador who lost 3 minutes in the last 4 kilometres on stage 7 when he forgot to eat, which let in Luis León Sanchez to take the overall lead. To see the seemingly unflappable Contador dropping back through the peloton as if stationary on the final climb was engrossing. His subsequent flurry of attacks the following day in an attempt to wrestle the victory from Sanchez was equally as exciting. The 2008 edition was a ding dong affair where both Sylvain Chavanel and Robert Gesink both had the jersey at one point and were ready to defend until the end only to be nutmegged by Davide Rebellin on the penultimate stage.

So what makes Paris-Nice so exciting? The lack of time trial kilometres is a big factor. With only a prologue of 8km or less there is not enough time to be gained for somebody to ‘do an Indurain‘. That is, to build up a big lead against the clock and then defend in the mountains. Instead, riders attack one day and are attacked the next and the race becomes unpredictable. There is no safety net of a long final time trial for the strong chrono men who can afford to lose a minute or two in the mountains. Every rider who has aspirations of winning the race must stay at the head of the race for the whole week.

The fact that the race is so early in the season plays a big part too. Even if a rider who is capable of winning overall wins the prologue, like Contador last year, there is no guarantee that his team will be capable of defending the lead all week. Some or all of the riders on the team will still be riding themselves in to form and won’t have the resources to control the front of a race for seven days. Paris-Nice lies outside the form boundaries of the triumvirate of Grand Tours. It also lies a good few weeks before the Ardennes classics where some of the world’s best stage race riders would also be aiming to peak. The race is full of riders who have other bigger goals throughout the season but who are unwilling to surpass the opportunity to win such an important race. This makes for highly exciting racing, hopefully this years edition lives up to the bill.

Riding in Paris-Nice this week are the two Irish cousins Nicolas Roche and Dan Martin. They both finished with the same time in the Prologue time trial yesterday well down in 105th and 106th positions. It’s safe to say that time trialling isn’t any of the three Irish pros strong suits. Roche usually manages to finish about half way down the leader board in most time trials, his best result coming in the final time trial of the 2008 Vuelta where he finished in 14th. Dan Martin, as a climber, wouldn’t be expected to have great pedigree against the clock and sure enough he usually does finish in the bottom half on chrono days although he did manage 38th in a Vuelta time trial last year. Deignan fares little better, his best result coming in the 2009 Giro where he took 34th on the Stage 12 time trial but usually finishes much further down.

In fairness to the three of them, many riders who know they can’t win the time trial outright and who have no aspirations to challenge for the General Classement usually treat a test against the clock as a rest day of sorts. All three riders fall into this category of rider in most races and would often use the time trial as reconnaissance for their team leader, reporting back anything significant they experienced out on the course. In my opinion, all three Irish riders have the potential to challenge for week long stage races. I know that Dan Martin worked on his time trial position in a wind tunnel over the winter. Deignan and Roche must follow suit if they have not already in order to maximise their potential. While they might be able to maintain a challenge in races like Paris-Nice which has very little time trialling, there are plenty of other stage races waiting to be won by a strong rider who can pull off a time trial when he has to.

Related Articles


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published / Required fields are marked *