by Andy Scott
PARIS, March 1, 2013 (AFP) – The absence of 2012 winner Bradley Wiggins
from the field means the race is wide open to emerge triumphant at this year’s
Paris-Nice, which gets underway on Sunday.
This will be the 71st edition of the Race to the Sun, which marks the start
of the European cycling season and provides a hint of what might be to come on
the Tour de France before attentions turn towards the spring classics.
Wiggins has opted not to defend his title as he focuses on preparing for
the Giro d’Italia, but there are no shortage of potential winners heading into
a race that is tailored initially for sprinters before finishing with a
mountain time trial on the Col-d’Eze on March 10.
David Millar of Garmin-Sharp, a winner of the prologue back in 2007, is one
of the few British riders competing with Wiggins not there, although he will
be performing a supporting role to the team’s leading contender Andrew
“It’s a very difficult one, the first big stage race of the year and the
weather’s generally not that conducive to cycling,” Millar told Cyclingnews.
Established names such as Tom Boonen, Alessandro Petacchi and Heinrich
Haussler have won stages on Paris-Nice before and will be contenders if they
can make an impression on the opening days.
But the chance could be there for others, such as Nicolas Roche of Ireland,
who is the leading contender for a Saxo-Tinkoff team that does not feature
“I have ambitions, I don’t want to disappoint,” Roche, the son of former
Paris-Nice and Tour de France winner Stephen Roche, told 20Minutes.
“If I can get on to the podium, then all the better. I am targeting the top
After finishing fifth overall last year and being crowned best young rider,
American Tejay Van Garderen will lead a BMC team that has earmarked the race
as a primary objective for the season.
He will be ably supported by world champion Philippe Gilbert, who is using
the week to step up preparations for the upcoming Milan-SanRemo.
“This race is one of the nicest on the calendar and also a very important
one to step up my condition with a hard week on the bike,” the Belgian said.
“I hope to do a nice prologue and give my best to protect Tejay.”
Another BMC rider, Cadel Evans, does not feature as he focuses instead on
the Tirreno-Adriatico, but there will nevertheless be a strong Australian
representation at the starting line, including Haussler, Mark Renshaw, Simon
Gerrans and Richie Porte.
Other names to look out for include Katusha’s Denis Menchov and Italy’s
Cannondale rider Basso will be competing for the first time in 2013 after
snow put paid to last weekend’s Gran Premio di Lugano, where he was supposed
“The most important thing will be how I feel, not results,” said Basso,
playing down his prospects.
“I’m working towards the Giro and every race is a good chance to improve my
Basso will be itching for the race to begin, particularly after the stress
of his recent involvement as a witness in the Operation Puerto trial of
Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes in Madrid.
The race begins with a 2.9 km individual time trial in Houilles in the
Paris suburbs on Sunday, and will be followed by three largely flat stages
designed for bunch-sprint finales.
Seven categorized climbs feature on stage four before stage five concludes
atop La Montagne de Lure, where Contador won in 2009.
Stage six will follow another undulating route before the testing mountain
time trial conclusion at Eze just to the east of Nice.