UAE Team Emirates are sending a strong squad to Paris-Nice for what is arguably the first major European stage race of the year.
The event is nicknamed the Race to the Sun, as it runs in the first half of March, typically starting in cold and wintry conditions in the French capital before reaching the spring sunshine on the Cote d’Azur by the end of the week.
This eight-day long slog from the outskirts of France’s capital city to the Mediterranean shores is as diverse as it is debilitating – its route peppered with pitfalls and exposed to the unpredictable weather that is so often a factor during the early parts of the season.
To tackle the challenge, UAE Team Emirates will send a seasoned squad of riders including General Classification contender and former Italian national champion, Fabio Aru.
The 2018 Colombian national champion, Sergio Henao, also has his eyes firmly fixed on a podium place in the climbers stages and will be supported by Diego Ulissi who favours the lumpy terrain in these races. Henao, 31, was a winner of this event two years ago while riding for Team Sky.
For the sprint stages, Norwegian powerhouse Alexander Kristoff will lead the charge after showing his early season form at the UAE Tour. The team will be backed up by Marco Marcato, Rory Sutherland and Sven Erik Bystrom – a rangy rider whose breakaway capabilities were showcased to the world in 2018 when he narrowly missed out on a stage win at the Vuelta a Espana.
Here’s our seven-man squad for the “Race to the Sun”☀️ #ParisNice 🇫🇷:@FabioAru1 🇮🇹@sebystrom 🇳🇴@sergiohenaoofic 🇨🇴@Kristoff87 🇳🇴@MarcatoMarco 🇮🇹@rorysutherland1 🇦🇺@DiegoUlissi 🇮🇹— @UAE-TeamEmirates (@TeamUAEAbuDhabi) 7 March 2019
📝Preview: https://t.co/WvvG28TwL5#UAETeamEmirates #RideTogether #YearOfTolerance pic.twitter.com/g8aPGp47QV
The team will be guided by a trio of sports directors including Simone Pedrazzini, Neil Stephens and Paolo Trialongo.
Team manager Joxean Fernández Matxin said: “We’ll be at Paris-Nice with Henao, already an overall winner. It’s his first European race of 2019 after he began in the tour of Colombia.
“Diego Ulissi, who rode well in the UAE Tour, will ride at his side and Fabio Aru will compete without pressure to perform in the classification. The team is balanced. We can count on a good group of riders to support. Kristoff will aim for the first three stages that suit sprinters.”
The race begins in the Yvelines region for the 10th year in a row, with a flat opener around Saint-Geramin-en-Laye that will provide Kristoff with an early opportunity to take to the podium.
The second and third stages, to Bellegarde and Moulins, respectively, will also favour the fast men, although the flat and exposed terrain opens up the race to a continuous risk of echelons.
The terrain becomes slightly more rugged on Stage 4 from Vichy to Pelussin, with four climbs in the final 60km, including the short but steep Cote de Condrieu. The category two Cote de Chavanay is just 10km from the finish and offers an obvious springboard for late attacks.
Stage 5 introduces the individual time trial which will take place in Barbentane and – as always – will define the state of play ahead of the race’s mountainous finale. While the 25.5km route includes a climb to the abbey of St Michel de Frigolet around the mid-point, it will still favour the specialists.
The following day’s stage to Brignoles has a rolling route that lends itself to long range attackers before a closing weekend that brings the race onto far more challenging roads. Stage 7 from Nice to the Col de Turini is 181.5km in length and features six climbs, with a big focus on the final two ascents as the race enters the Alps.
The category one Cote de Pelasque (5.7km at 6.2 per cent) is followed by the Col de Turini. At 14.9km in length with an average gradient of 7.3 per cent, it will be a stage that highlights the form of the GC riders at this early point in the season.
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