The seventieth edition of Paris-Nice starts this weekend with Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas set to roll out for Team Sky.
But in a blow to the British squad, Chris Froome, second in last year’s Vuelta a Espana, has been ruled out through illness. He will be replaced in Sky’s eight-man squad by the Spaniard, Xabier Zandio.
Richie Porte, winner of last month’s Volta ao Algarve, Christian Knees, Danny Pate, Kanstantsin Siutsou, and Rigoberto Urán complete the team.
The race is book-ended by time trials. Its first is Sunday’s opening stage: a 9.4km race against the clock from Dampierre-en-Yvelines to Saint Remy Les Chevreuse. The closing stage a week later will take the riders up a 9.6km climb from Nice to the summit of the 501 metre Col d’Eze.
Two of the world’s best time trialists will be represented in the starting line-up: Wiggins, and the defending Paris-Nice champion, Tony Martin, who is also the reigning world time trial champion.
Wiggins will hope to repeat his victory over Martin in the individual time trial at the Volta ao Algarve, where less than a second separated the pair. Wiggins described Team Sky’s Volta campaign as ‘a brilliant week’ and praised the spirit in the camp.
“Everything about this team is just snowballing and getting better and better, race after race. We’re becoming more consistent too, it’s more of a habit now. So everything we go to, one thing leads to another and we’ve also got an incredibly strong squad at Tirreno-Adriatico which takes place around the same time as Paris-Nice.
“It’s great to be part of it and I’m just looking forward to Paris-Nice now and my next few races after that,” he told the Team Sky website.
Martin will be accompanied by ‘in form’ teammates, Tom Boonen, winner of the Tour of Qatar and second and last weekend’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and Tour de San Luis winner, Levi Leipheimer. Defending champion, Tony Martin, the world time trial champion, who won last year’s Paris Nice in the colours of HTC Highroad, and French national road race champion, Sylvain Chavenel, will also compete in the green and white of Omega Pharma-Quickstep.
Directeur sportif, Brian Holm, said Leipheimer, Martin, and Chavanel would lead the team’s challenge.
“The opening time trial and the closing time trial will be very important in the economy of the race, as will the fifth stage with an uphill arrival in Mende. In general, as always it will be a hard fought Paris Nice, we’ll have to ride paying close attention to hidden hazards on the route.”
He added: “Tom Boonen will try to play his cards on the stages that favour him and will put his own experience to the service of the team when necessary.”
The Schleck brothers will lead the challenge of Radioshack-Nissan-Trek, supported by the veteran Germans, Andreas Kloden and Jens Voight, both highly accomplished stage racers. Fabian Cancellara’s duties at the Strade Bianchi prevent his first showdown with Martin and Wiggins: a triumvirate that could claim all three steps of the podium at this summer’s Olympic time trial.
BMC Racing’s squad will include Thor Hushovd and Marcus Burghardt, but the team’s leaders for stage races and one day classics, Cadel Evans and Philippe Gilbert, will both ride in the Strade Bianche one-day race in Tuscany, with the team’s former world road race champion Alessandro Ballan and the veteran George Hincapie.
Britain’s David Millar will lead a Garmin Barracuda squad that includes Heinrich Haussler and Christophe Le Mevel.
Eighteen WorldTour teams will contest the race, alongside four Pro Continental squads, including Coifidis and Thomas Voeckler’s Europcar squad. Voeckler and teammate Pierre Rolland will reprise their highly effective partnership of the 2011 Tour De France where Voeckler spent 10 days in yellow and Rolland wore the white jersey of best young rider in Paris after winning on l’Alpe d’Huez.