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"Porte's overall victory in France may have been aided by an impressive team, but it was first and foremost down to his own strength. Let down by his team crosswinds in the opening road stage, he was seen fighting along completely...

Photo: ASO

ALESSANDRO PETACCHI

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ANDREAS KLÖDEN

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ANDREW TALANSKY

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DENIS MENCHOV

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DIEGO ULISSI

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ELIA VIVIANI

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HEINRICH HAUSSLER

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LIEUWE WESTRA

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MICHELE SCARPONI

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NACER BOUHANNI

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NAIRO QUINTANA

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PARIS - NICE

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PHILIPPE GILBERT

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RICHIE PORTE

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SYLVAIN CHAVANEL

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TEAM SKY

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16.03.2013 @ 14:16 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

With a convincing victory by Richie Porte, Paris-Nice turned out to be another display of the stage race dominance of Team Sky. Is the team just unbeatable when it comes to mountainous, multi-day competitions? Who succeeded and who failed in the French race? And did we learn anything about the prospects of the possible Milan-Sanremo contenders? CyclingQuotes.com offers you the answers in this post-race analysis.

 

Richie Porte (Sky) was a surprise omission in most lists of pre-race favourites for this year's edition of the race to the sun. The tenacious Australian still had to prove his mantle in week-long WorldTour races, but his development since his arrival at Team Sky always suggested that something was in store.

 

Few witnessed his performances in last year's Tour de Romandie, Criterium du Dauphine and Tour de France without realizing that this Tasmanian had the potential to go for personal results. Creating a formidable duo with Michael Rogers his relentless pace on the climbs were the foundation for most of Bradley Wiggins' triumphs.

 

It might have required a closer look in the results, but his performance at the Tour of Oman suggested that Porte had started the year on a roll. On domestique duties for eventual winner Chris Froome, he was the last man in the Sky train for the Arabian race, and his effort did its fair share to hurt Froome's competitors. Hence, it was no surprise that Sky entered this year's Paris-Nice with complete confidence in the Australian's capabilities.

 

Confirmation of potential

His overall victory in France may have been aided by an impressive team, but it was first and foremost down to his own strength. Let down by his team crosswinds in the opening road stage, he was seen fighting along completely on his own near the front of the peloton. He showed the needed awareness and concentration when he joined Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) to create an unexpected opportunity in a wet final of the third stage before he stamped his authority on the race with his acceleration near the top of the Montagne de Lure. While some of his competitors showed less tactical finesse on the steep slopes, Porte kept calm and timed his acceleration into the fierce headwind with perfection. His dominant display of power on the Col d'Eze just underlined his superiority.

 

The field might not have been the strongest in history, but such clear was his dominance that he would undoubtedly have been competitive against more prominent rivals. He has proved to his team that he is ready to take on the leadership role in the biggest of competitions.

 

Where to go for Porte?

However, his position in the team may exactly be a fly in the ointment for Porte. Without any doubt, he has developed a taste for more personal success, and even his modest comments after his overall victory cannot hide his desire to get more opportunities for himself.

 

As things stand, he is poised to get his own grand tour opportunities in next year's Giro while Bradley Wiggins will try to create history by following up a potential Giro victory with a triumph in the Vuelta. With Froome emerging as the world's leading GC rider, his prospects of a leadership role in the Tour seem bleak.

 

It may turn out to be a tough ask for Sky to keep the Australian in the ranks. With a number of teams desperately on the hunt for future grand tour winners there will certainly not be any lack of lucrative offers.

 

Doing it the Sky way

Paris-Nice delivered a further confirmation of Sky's ability to take complete control of a race. As soon as the road points upwards, the team assumes its position at the head of the peloton and puts on a furious pace discouraging any possible attacks. Some may find it boring, but the strategy works. And they have the leaders to finish off the work.

 

The team has used the off-season to strengthen its roster by acquiring a number of careful thought out signings who fit into the team's plans. Paris-Nice was a testament to the team's success on the market. Bronze medallist at last year's TT world championships Vasil Kiryienka left Movistar to join the British outfit, and his ability to keeping on forever made him an obvious choice. His impressive solo performance at the head of Saturday's hard stage was a confirmation of his suitability for the role. David Lopez stepped up his game after a number of quiet years in Movistar and re-found the potential he once showed by emerging as an incredibly strong lieutenant to Porte in the mountains. And with Kanstantsin Siutsou back to his best after his unfortunate accident at last year's Tour, the team's ability to control the race was never in doubt.

 

Such is the Sky's dominance that they can now field rosters able to completely control two WorldTour races simultaneously. And this in a time where the complete classics team trains on Tenerife! The performances of Dario Cataldo, Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran in Tirreno-Adriatico are equally impressive, and the doubts regarding the team's ability to duly support Wiggins in the Giro and Froome and Wiggins in the Tour may definitely have been put to rest.

 

Confirmation from Talansky

Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) ended up being the closest challenger of Porte's superiority. With limited racing in his legs (his only preparation race, the Tour Mediteraneen, was cut short by a bike theft), he seems to continue the upward trend laid out towards the end of last season. After a first year at Garmin where he mostly excelled in time trials, he stepped up his games in the mountains with strong performances in the Tour de Romandie, the Tour de l'Ain and the Vuelta. His runner-up position was his second in a WorldTour race after last year's Romandie, but this time the foundations were laid in the mountains and were not completely down to a strong performance in the time trial.

 

Talansky now seems to emerge as the next potential American grand tour winner. Much has been said about Tejay Van Garderen after his strong 5th in last year's tour. Nobody can take away the BMC rider's credentials in the time trials, but his potential in the mountains seems to be limited. It has been a common pattern for Van Garderen to enter week-long races with just ambitions just to crack on the steepest slopes. Talansky seems much more at ease on the climbs, and with his natural talent in the race against the clock he possesses the complete package.

 

His less impressive tactics on the mountaintop finish on Montagne de Lure proves that he still has much to learn, but it was a good indication of calmness that he managed to keep in contention despite being surrounded by a team unable to produce any help on the climbs. With a Tour debut on the cards this year, he will use the race as an important learning experience, and he should be ready to mount a serious GC challenge come 2014.

 

Westra steps up in the mountains

Lieuwe Westra emerged as a surprise GC candidate in last year's edition of Paris-Nice where he ended up as the nearest challenger for Bradley Wiggins and won the hilltop finish in Mende. At a first glance this year's race was a case of confirmation, but it was actually much more than that.

 

So far Lieuwe Westra has never been competitive on long climbs. Last year's strong overall performance was delivered on a route littered with short, sharp climbs, but with not real mountaintop finish. This year was different. With the inclusion of the Montagne de Lure, the little sister of Mount Ventoux, this year's course were much more suited to the real grand tour specialists.

 

Westra failed to reproduce last year's result - much of which was due to a disappointing performance in th Col d'Eze time trial - and he ended up finishing 8th. The lanky Dutchman was, however, able to stay among the leaders in Friday's queen stage. This has without any doubt been source for some encouragement in the Vacansoleil camp.

 

Vacansoleil started out as an aggressive team obtaining most of its success in the classics and select stages. With Westra's improvement in the mountains, Thomas De Gendt's GC exploits in last year's Giro, Tomasz Marczynski revealing his potential in last year's Vuelta and Wout Poels doing improving impressively after his horrific crash in last year's Tour, the team may finally have a realistic shot at an overall top 10 in this year's Tour.

 

Veterans strike back

Veterans Denis Menchov, Michele Scarponi and Andreas Klöden all had disappointing 2012 seasons. After a strong start Menchov fell out of contention in the Tour in the Alps, Scarponi failed to reproduce his 2011 efforts in the Giro, and Klöden was a shadow of his former self all season. As a consequence many have written off these former GC standouts as over the hill. Signs in Paris-Nice and earlier this season may prove that such assessments may turn out to be a little hasty.

 

With a 4th place finish in Volta ao Algarve and a strong performance in GP Citta di Camaiore, Menchov entered the race with cause for optimism. Apart from Porte, he ended up being the only rider to put in a lasting attack into the headwind on Montagne de Lure. Had it not been for the usual lack of concentration from the Russian - he lost 1 minute after being caught out on the treacherous descent in the final of stage 3 - he would have produced a solid top 10 result. The performance may be cause for some optimism in Katusha where disappointment in the most decorated Russian rider was enormous. With Joaquin Rodriguez focusing on the Tour, we may see the Russian with one final bid for glory in one of the remaining three-week races.

 

Scarponi had mostly drawn negative attention in the early part of the season. His relations to doctor Michele Ferrari resulted in a suspension over the winter, and his team's doubts in his past forced him miss most of the early part of the season. In his first race, GP Citta di Camaiore, he proved, however, that he has put in the hours during the off-season, and he was clearly the strongest on the climbs in his debut race. His aggressive racing on Montagne de Lure was confirmation of this, and only an untimely puncture put an end to his GC ambitions. He bounced back with a strong performance on Col d'Eze, and Lampre should be reassured that they can muster a serious challenge in this year's Italian grand tour.

 

Klöden's career has followed a strange pattern. Since 2007 he has always been strong in odd years while even years have always produced disappointing results. Indications this early in the season are that this trend will continue. The runner-up in the 2004 and 2006 Tours de France ended up in the top 10 in Volta ao Algarve, and he repeated that performance this week in France. A serious bid for a grand tour victory may be too late, but the lanky German may prove to be Radioshack's guarantee for a top 10 performance, should Andy Schleck fail to return to his best come July.

 

Young guns show their potential

Scarponi's performance was not the only cause for optimism in the Lampre camp. After a number of promising years Diego Ulissi finally seems to have made the step up and now seems to be competitive in the week-long races. Up until now he has mostly impressed in one-day races in Italy, but his ambitions have never been fulfilled in the stage races. With Cunego never returning to former grand tour strength and with Scarponi set to leave the team at the end of the season, it must have been a relief for the team management to see the young Italian being at ease on the climbs throughout the race. If he can confirm his potential in future races, the team's constant focus on the development of young talent finally seems to produce a future stage race contender.

 

Another encouragement was delivered by the tiny Colombian climber Nairo Quintana. He crashed in the fourth stage and ended up losing all chances of overall glory, but Movistar must be delighted by what they saw in the earlier stages. His strength on the Montagne de Lure and Col d'Eze may not have come as a surprise - after all he is one of the most talented climbers in the peloton - but it was impressive to see his handling of the terrain which does not suit him. Unlike other GC contenders, he managed to stay in the first group when crosswinds caused havoc in stage 1, and he was attentive on the dangerous descent on a cold day in stage 3. His efforts may not have been rewarded, but the Colombian seems to develop into much more than a pure climber.

 

A reassured Patrick Lefevre

Omega Pharma-Quick Step manager Patrick Lefevre enters his favourite races, the cobbled classics, as a worried man. With question marks lingering over the head of last year's dominant rider, Tom Boonen, Lefevre has had every reason to fear that his team may fail to live up to expectations in the biggest of races. Paris-Nice only confirmed that Tom Boonen is way behind where he was at this time last year. In spite of this Lefevre has every reason to enter leave France as a happy man.

 

Two years ago Sylvain Chavanel looked like the strongest man in the Tour of Flanders. Despite his victory in the 3 Days of De Panne, he failed to reproduce that splintering form last year. Hence, it must have been encouraging for Lefevre to see Chavanel back to his best in France this week.

 

Chavanel was everywhere. Just fractions of a second prevented him from taking the first leader's jersey after the prologue, and he was seen being aggressive in the bunch sprints in the first two stages. In the final of stage 4, the number of his attacks was uncountable, and he put in an unusual strong performance on Montagne de Lure. He surprised everybody by winning the sprint in stage 6, and he finished everything off by a top 10 performance in a time trial not suited to his characteristics. Along with his stage victory, he leaves the race with an overall 5th place and the green points jersey. Lefevre has every reason to leave France as a relieved man.

 

Looking to Milan-Sanremo

Paris-Nice has always been an important form builder for a number of classics contenders, and this year's edition was no exception. A number of classics stars lined up at the start in Houilles to get in a week of hard racing ahead of the season's first big goal in Milan-Sanremo.

 

With Peter Sagan and Cannondale wishing a hard race next Sunday on the Mediterranean coast, expect a frantic pace set by the green-clad riders as soon as the peloton hits the climb of Le Manie. As a consequence, strong climbing may be a more valuable tool than fast finishing speeds in the quest for glory in La Primavera, and the climbs in France were a good gauge of those skills for a number of the contenders.

 

Reigning world road race champion Philippe Gilbert was one of those. Leaving behind his bad experience in last year's Tirreno-Adriatico, the Belgian proved to be far ahead of where he was at this time last year. That said, the man who dominated the 2011 season was seen struggling in the final climbs of stage 3 and 4 on routes that should be perfectly suited to his characteristics. There is still some way between the current world champion and the rider who started 2011 on a roll by crushing the opposition in Strade Bianche.

 

More cause for optimism is found in the camp of the brand new IAM team. Aussie Heinrich Haussler had a blistering 2009 season with runner-up positions in Milan-Sanremo and the Tour of Flanders, but has since struggled to reproduce results of that calibre. His new surroundings might have done the trick, and 2013 could be the year where Haussler returns to his best. In the tough final of stage 4 he was seen fighting to stay in a very select group of favourites, and he was just meters away from cresting the summit with the leaders. With his fellow sprinters long gone, the performance was impressive, and he followed it up on the penultimate day where he fought on to contest the sprint on a very hard day in the hills around Nice.

 

Italian veteran Alessandro Petacchi is another rider with strong ambitions for La Classicissima. With age having taken the toll on his top speed, the day may be gone where he can realistically hope to repeat his 2005 victory in the race, but the man with the most victories of all active riders must return from his French odyssey with all cause for optimism. For the first time in a number of years, he has not been plagued by any illness in the early part of the season, and he seems to enter his home race extremely well-prepared. It may have been hidden on TV, but a closer look at the result sheets shows that the veteran is climbing extremely well. He could be in for a final shot at a podium place in his favourite race.

 

Elia Viviani had a day in another WorldTour leader's jersey after his stint in yellow at last year's Tour of Beijing and proved his fast finishing speed by finishing on the podium in the opening two mass sprints. Having proved his strong climbing in last year's Tour of Poland, he certainly has what it takes to be competitive in Milan-Sanremo. This year might be a little too early for the ambitious Italian, and he will enter this year's edition of the Italian classic looking for experience while being of valuable support of mega favourite Sagan. However, he has made no effort to hint his desire to win this year's Gent-Wevelgem, and the Cannondale team will have a tough job in distributing the leadership role between their two fast finishers for this year's edition of the Belgian semi-classic.

 

One name missing from the start list next Sunday will be French champion Nacer Bouhanni. The FDJ rider had a breakthrough performance on the WorldTour stage with his victory in stage 1, and he was poised to create a formidable duo with a resurgent Yoann Offredo in the Italian classic. The injuries sustained in his spectacular crash on stage 2 make him unable to start his first edition of La Primavera, and with him an interesting outside option is gone. With this week's display of finishing speed and his impressive climbing in last year's Vuelta a Burgos, there is no doubt that the Frenchman has all the characteristics needed for a serious contender in future editions of Milan-Sanremo.

 

In any case, the amalgamation of the contenders from the past week's racing in France and the sprint-heavy field in Tirreno makes for a thrilling battle next Sunday. The last two editions have been won by riders coming from Paris-Nice, and the likes of Haussler, Petacchi and Gilbert will without any doubt look to make it three in a row.

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