The Paris-Nice race has a date with the "Giant of Provence" on Thursday and it looks to be epic. The weather so far in the 'Race to the Sun' has made the conditions at the recent Amgen Tour of California look downright tropical. Bucketing rain and cold temps have caused shortened stages and a general lethargy in the pack. Who could blame them!
All that will change on Thursday as Mont Ventoux looms on the horizon. It's still winter, especially in France, which means that the riders won't be going all the way to the lofty, 6400 foot summit. A friend of mine rode to the top a month or so ago and ended up pushing through some pretty major drifts. Instead the race will finish at about the 4400-foot level at the ski station of Mont Serein. For those of you familiar with Lance Armstrong's epic battles on Ventoux in the Tour de France and the Dauphine Libere, Mont Serein is on the other side of the mountain, the north slopes.
The climb is a bit easier from the north, but by no means is it a gimmee. In fact, from the Maulecene, at the base, the average gradient is much more constant
and overall greater (7.2% vs 7.1%) than the more well-known south side start in Bedoin. Heck, whatever side you ride up this legend of cycling will leave you gasping, but with lots of great memories.
For the pro riding Paris-Nice this will be a 3300-foot climb and will be a rude awakening, especially for those racers who aren't really peaking for this race. My guess is that this will be a battle between Luis Leon Sanchez(Caisse d'Epargne) and Frank Schleck(CSC) with Robert Gesink(Rabobank) and Sylvain Chavanel(Cofidis) as spoilers. Hopefully, Slipstream Chipotle's David Millar can hang in there, though the climb may be a bit longer than his liking.
One dark horse is High Road's Craig Lewis. With a 6.4 watts/kg power output, he has the potential to be up there with the best, but in his first full-season on the European pro circuit, he may be on a steep learning curve.
Regardless of what happens, the European stage racing season officially opens on Thursday. Get there early for the best seats!