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:

Watch the Tour of Qatar!

While most of the American public will be focused on that most holy of American sporting events, the Super Bowl, we in the cycling community will have eyes only for the Tour of Qatar!

For a great history and detail preview of this year’s race, check out US Pro Cycling News.

If I calculate it correctly, there is an 8 hour time difference between the US (Eastern time) and Qatar (for some reason, I’m crap with figuring out time differences, so if I’m wrong, let me know). All the stages (except the prologue) start at around 12:30 local time (4:30am Eastern), but live coverage will start around 7am Eastern.

Live Streaming

Versus will be stream all of the stages (yay!), starting at 6:50am Eastern. I’m pretty sure this stream is geo-restricted, meaning it can only be watched in the US.

British Eurosport will have an hour of live coverage each day starting at 8am 7am Eastern (here, scroll down, and here). Although Eurosport is notorious for running behind schedule…

Twitter live updates

Steephill.tv

ProCycling Live

#toq Twitter group

Live blog

CyclingNews may or may not be live blogging. I think they probably will, but only tomorrow will tell.

More Info

I think I’ve covered all the live streams options, but check out CyclingFans, Steephill.tv, and ProCycling Live for the latest news and streams- they’ll be all over it.

Race Watching 101

flickr user loverfishySay there’s a race coming up you’re excited to see- something like Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The day of, you flip on the TV to catch the action, right? Whoa- hold on there, Sparky. Not so fast. This is cycling we’re talking about! We don’t get spoiled with things like instant, easy access to our favorite sporting pastime. We have to prove our dedication. So, how does one experience the excitement of live coverage without the convenience of TV coverage? Take my hand and let me be your guide through the forest of the interwebs.

First…

The Basics

If any races are going to be shown on TV in the US, either live or recaps, Versus or Universal Sports are the channels to go to. However, unless it’s a big time race, it probably won’t get live coverage (Think the Grand Tours or the biggest classics). To watch the other races live, one must turn to the internet. The most basic coverage on the internet is live streaming. The feed usually isn’t great, but it’s good enough. Most coverage with English commentary comes from Eurosport. Otherwise, your best bet for coverage online comes from Belgium with Dutch commentary – usually from the Belgian channel Sporza. While watching a race with Dutch commentary might seem like a futile exercise, it’s actually quite useful! Even if one can not understand what is being said, reading the emotions and reactions of the commentators can be quite informative. This coverage can also be supplemented by Twitter and live blogging.

It is the races with no live coverage at all where the obsessive cycling fans earn their stripes – for these hearty souls, no live video coverage is but a minor speed bump in their quest for compete fandom domination. Aided by their two greatest weapons, Twitter and live blogs, no race is too obscure!

Live Coverage

As mentioned above, any live TV coverage offered in the States will either be on Versus or Universal Sports (I have no idea where you might watch live outside the States, so you’re on your own!).

Paid live coverage

When those TV execs decide we’re not worth the investment (which is most of the time), and it’s a bigger race, those channels will often offer live streaming on their websites for a fee – usually $10-15, but sometimes up to $30. Another site that offers paid coverage of a wider range of small and larger races is cycling.tv. For $80/year or $30/3 months, you have access to live race coverage with English commentary, on-demand highlights, post-race reports, etc. One of the benefits of paying for coverage is reliability and ease of access- you don’t have to search around to find a good feed and you have more flexibility to watch recaps if you miss the race. However, there are lots of free options and I’ve never paid to watch a race. This service has gotten mixed reviews, and TeamSkyFans.com has done a great in depth review of the site and its service to give you an idea if this is something you might want to use.

Free live coverage

While you have to search a little harder and the feed might not be great, there are free live feeds if you’re willing to look for them. If there is live coverage, these sites WILL find it:

  • CyclingFans.com (@cyclingfans): Here you will find links to streams, start lists, the official race website, live tickers, and schedules with start times (the local start time along with the EST start time) and an analog clock with the local time of the race (ridiculously useful, for those of us not adept at time conversions…). This is my go to site for feeds and live tickers. They also post great photos after each stage, along with any recap videos available.

  • SteepHill.tv (@steephill): This site has pretty much the same information as CyclingFans.com, and while I don’t think they do as good a job laying out the start times of live coverage, they have a great chart which lists the media source, links to online streaming, and comments about the stream.
  • ProcyclingLive (@ProcyclingLive): Only has links to live streams, but their live ticker on Twitter is killer. They’ve also started posted race/stage previews and doing a really great podcast.
Following these sites on Twitter is a great way to keep up with when live video has started for each race, as well.

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In defense of Twitter

A report was published by the Pew Research Center recently which found that only 6% of ALL Americans use Twitter (8% of Internet using adults). And of that 6% who use the service, 1 in 5 are members in name only, never checking the site for new updates. However, it was also interesting to see that while 21% of Twitter users never check for updates, 24% of users check more than once a day. So an almost equal percentage check never as check all the time. Anyway. Enough stats. Check out the full report for more information.

I’ll gladly admit that not only am I one of the 6%, I’m also one of the 24%, having every Twitter update sent to me as they happen through TweetDeck. However, before July of this year, I wasn’t really sure what the point of Twitter was. Sure, my wit is quite suited for 140 characters, but what can Twitter offer me that Facebook can’t? However, the deeper I got sucked into cycling, the more I realized the value of Twitter. Twitter became a way for me to be part of the cycling community, pro and otherwise. My increased Twitter activity was directly related to my increased interest in cycling! And now, not only do I have to defend my obsession with cycling, I also have to defend my addiction to Twitter! So, what about Twitter makes it such an integral part of the cycling community? Let’s explore.

(a brief note before we begin: for some, this might seem elementary. However, I write so those not familiar with our sport might gain new insight.)

On the fringes

Here in the States (and maybe elsewhere, I’m not sure), we cycling fans have a cross to bear as our sport of choice is woefully under covered by mainstream media. The cycling community is not large and the pro cycling fan base is even more not large. This is where Twitter comes in. Twitter gives us cycling fans a place to find like- minded individuals, a place to follow the pros through their training, races, wins and loses, a place to follow races which aren’t shown on TV or are available online only with Dutch commentary, a place to connect with fellow race watchers around the globe. Through Twitter, pro cycling becomes so much more than just what comes through the TV or computer.

As I’ve used Twitter to engage in the cycling community, I’ve found those I follow generally fall into 3 camps: the riders themselves, cycling news sources, and regular joes like myself who have an invested interest. In addition, I see three main ways Twitter is useful to the cycling community: following races, staying informed on cycling issues/news, and connecting with racers and their teams.

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