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Although lacking a summit finish, a stage in the Massif Central and a long time trial, the route of next month's Paris-Nice looks anything but straightforward. Unveiled on Monday evening at race organisers' ASO's HQ at Issy les Moulineaux on the outskirts of Paris, it is, according to race director Christophe Prudhomme, "a race that will be up for grabs every day".
The race starts, for the third time, with a prologue time trial in Issy les Moulineaux on March 5 and then begins its week-long run to the Mediterranean sun. The first three road stages should suit the sprinters, particularly world champion Tom Boonen who has six wins to his credit already this season from ASO-backed races in Qatar last week.
The Massif Central may have been missed, apparently to avoid recent problems with bad weather conditions, but the difficulty of the final four stages more than make up for this. "The last four stages all have a climb about 15 kilometres from the finish," Prudhomme explained.
The stage into Digne comes in over the deceptively testing Col du Corobin, which featured in the Tour de France last year. The following day's run into Cannes tackles the Bourigaille climb late on, while the final stage based on Nice features Col de la Porte, the Turbie, and the Col d'Eze.
Lining up will be the 20 ProTour teams plus Agritubel, with names such as Sandy Casar, Sylvain Chavanel, Erik Dekker, Floyd Landis, Christophe Moreau, Yaroslav Popovych, Davide Rebellin, Patrik Sinkewitz and Thomas Voeckler all looking to challenge Bobby Julich's defence of the title. The American should be able to count on strong support from CSC team-mate Jens Voigt.
Prudhomme also made passing reference to the ongoing dispute between the major tour organisers including ASO and the International Cycling Union over the ProTour series, stating: "The affair has not been resolved but we don't want to get into a war with the teams." This suggests that the major tours may be easing on their uncompromising stance that has threatened the running the of this year's ProTour, much to the dismay of the teams.
Prologue, March 5: Issy les Moulineaux, 4.8km
Stage 1, March 6: Villemandeur-Saint Amand Montrond, 193km
Stage 2, March 7: Crilly-Belleville, 200km
Stage 3, March 8: Julinas-Saint Etienne, 170km
Stage 4, March 9: Saint Etienne-Rasteau, 193km
Stage 5, March 10: Avignon-Digne les Bains, 201.5km
Stage 6, March 11: Digne les Bains-Cannes, 179km
Stage 7, March 12: Nice-Nice, 135km
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