Paris-Nice In Turmoil From Champion Richie Porte’s Withdrawal

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by Barnaby CHESTERMAN

PARIS, March 08, 2014 (AFP) – The Paris-Nice week-long stage race begins on
Sunday in turmoil following the last-gasp withdrawal of reigning champion
Richie Porte.

The Tasmanian was shifted at the last moment to the Tirreno-Adriatico stage
race in Italy next week after his Sky teammate, Tour de France champion Chris
Froome was forced out of that with a back injury.

That moved sparked anger from Paris-Nice organizers Amaury Sports
Organisation (ASO), who were relying on a thrilling battle between Porte, Giro
D’Italia champion Vincenzo Nibali and world champion Rui Costa.

“We find it cavalier to have the reigning (Paris-Nice) champion pull out
just before the start,” said ASO official and Tour de France director
Christian Prudhomme.

“We were told that to win points for the world rankings, the Tirreno was
more favorable (to Porte) due to its technical characteristics and the
presence of an (individual) time-trial.”

The course of the ‘Race to the Sun’ had already caused some waves in the
peloton due to its profile, deemed not to the advantage of riders such as
Porte, who usually gain ground in time-trials or on summit finishes.

Paris-Nice had been one of Porte’s major objectives in the early part of
this season before he makes the transition from chief support to major Tour
leader.

Having been Froome’s chief lieutenant during last year’s Tour de France and
a domestique for Bradley Wiggins in his Grand Boucle victory the year before,
Porte will make his debut as a major stage race team leader at May’s Giro
d’Italia.

But with Froome now sitting out the Tirreno-Adriatico, that race offers a
more suitable course for Porte’s abilities with two summit finishes and both
an individual and a team time-trial.

It means one of the main draws will be missing when the Paris-Nice gets
underway on Sunday with a 162.5km ride around the Paris suburbs.

– Suited to one-day specialists -

Despite Italian Nibali and American former Tour white jersey winner Tejay
van Garderen being in the field, the course appears more suited to the one-day
specialists.

Chief amongst those is Portuguese Costa, who has switched from Movistar to
Lampre this season.

The 27-year-old has good stage-race pedigree having won the Tour of
Switzerland the last two years.

And he is confident he can put in a good performance, despite usually
riding the Tirreno-Adriatico at this time of year.

“I don’t have a bucket-load of experience in the Paris-Nice. In the past I
normally opted to ride the Tirreno-Adriatico but, in 2013, we decided to
change programme given we felt the French course better suited my abilities,”
he said.

Costa crashed out in the second stage, bringing a premature close to his
challenge.

But he agrees that this year’s course will suit him.

“It is a curious profile, particularly without any individual time-trial
stages or tough uphill finishes.

“So it means that you have to pay attention on all the stages and every
kilometre of every stage.

“I think this kind of profile will be ideal for me, in the sense of
improving my form and fitness ahead of the (Spring) Classics.

“It looks more like a series of one-day races rather than a regular
one-week stage race. It will certainly be a new and exciting experience.”

Other punchers who may be looking to impress are AG2R’s Frenchman Romain
Bardet and Australian Tour Down Under winner Simon Gerrans.

Home hopes of at least stage successes will come in the shape of the
ever-present Sylvain Chavanel (IAM) and Thomas Voekler (Europcar) while
Belgian one-day specialist Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) could also
shake things up.

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