Paris-Nice: History and Preview

For most longtime cycling fans, Paris-Nice signals the true beginning of the cycling season. This probably goes back to the day when Qatar and Oman didn’t exist, and there was limited to no live coverage available until Paris-Nice. While the hardcore fans enjoy the addition of the Tour Down Under, Qatar, and Oman, those long, flat, windy, sandy stages leave much to be desired. Paris-Nice brings the racing back to Europe and proper climbs back to the stages. It’s a race that’s about journeying to the sunshine, when “the rising warmth brings the riders out of their shells as if awakening from a winter’s hibernation.”

History

Like the Tour de France, Paris-Nice was also started by a newspaper owner hoping to promote his papers.  Albert Lejune owned a paper in Paris (Le Petit Journal) and in Nice (Le Petit Niçois). Hoping to promote sunny, Mediterranean Nice as a mid-winter getaway for those still in the cold North (and sell more papers in the process), in 1933, he created a week long stage race which started in the wintry North of Paris and wound its way south to finish in the warmth of Nice. His “Six Days of the Road” became known as “The Race to the Sun.” Like most races which started in the 30s, it was forced to go on a hiatus from 1940 to 1946 because of World War II. It picked up again in 1946, but didn’t really start to come into its own until 1951. By then it was being run by Jean Leulliot and backed by a new publication, Road and Track. However, it was still being used to promote Nice as a winter escape destination. It was in the 50s that the race really started to take off and gain prestige. Now top tier riders were riding and winning, such as Jacques Anqutiel, Eddy Merckx, Sean kelly, Miguel Indurain, etc. From 2000 to 2002, the race was organized by Laurent Fignon, but today the race is managed by the ASO (Amaury Sports Organization), which also owns and organizes other big races, including the Tour de France, Vuelta a Espana, Paris-Roubaix, among others.

The route

It was never meant to be a taxing course and Lejune, the founder, purposefully built the route to avoid the Alps. It doesn’t favor sprinters, like the earlier races in Australia, Oman, and Qatar, nor does it favor the climbers, like the Grand Tours. It is landscape is lumpy, not mountainous. It is a race for sprinters, climbers and roulers alike. For example, the 2011 edition features 3 flat stages and 3 hilly stages. There have been some changes to format of the race in 2011; mainly the prologue has been replaced with a 27km time trial in the final stage. This is the first time since 1996 that there will not be a TT prologue  and it’s certainly the longest TT its ever had- the normal range is between 4 and 13km. There are some who believe the inclusion of the longer time trial doesn’t fit with the character of the race. Now the race can be lumped in with more traditional week long stage races.

2011 edition

Jerseys

  • Overall leaders jersey: Yellow
  • Point classification: Green
  • King of the Mountain: Red polka dot
  • Young Rider: White

Jersey winners from 2011

Interesting facts

  • Irish racer Sean Kelly has won the most races with 7 consecutive title!
  • It was an accident at this race which occured in the 2003 edition that prompted the UCI to mandate the use of helmets during races, after Kazakhstan rider Andrei Kivilev died because of head injury sustained during a crash.

Where to watch

TV:

  • Oh happy days, Versus is going to be showing the race on TV! However, it will not be live and it will be at 4:00 in the afternoon, starting Sunday. There will probably be live streaming available the day of, starting at 7:40am, if my calculations are correct. Check out Cyclingfans.com and Steephill.tv for updates and ProcyclingLive and Sportz-Live.com (scroll down to cycling category) for straight links.
  • There have been rumors that Versus is using Paris-Nice as a gauge to see if it should broadcast more cycling. So, especially if you have a Neilson scanner in your house, try and watch it on Versus. There have also been rumors that Belgian Anti-Piracy groups are cracking down on “illegal” internet streams, so it’s possible that all the streams coming out of Belgium will be geo-restricted, meaning if you’re not in Belgium you can’t watch them. But who knows.

Twitter:

  • Official Paris-Nice hashtag is #pn
  • ProcyclingLive will be live tweeting

Live blog:

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