New dawn for 'race to the sun'

Paris-Nice looks set for a renaissance having been toughened up route-wise and boosted by being the

Paris-Nice looks set for a renaissance having been toughened up route-wise and boosted by being the
PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM March 2005 will see a new dawn for Paris-Nice, the 'Race to the Sun'. As the inaugural race in the ProTour, there will be high expectations of an event that was in danger of becoming anonymous after it was sold on to the Tour de France organisation's parent company, ASO, a few years ago. Over the past decade or so, the once-loved 'Course au Soleil' has drawn less interest from local fans than in the past, as a succession of foreign winners took final victory on the Cote d'Azur. Riders such as Jorg Jaksche, Alexandre Vinokourov, and Michael Boogerd failed to stir French hearts in the same way as Laurent Jalabert and Jean-Franois Bernard once did in the mid-1990s But the news that an elite field, which is expected to include Lance Armstrong, and possibly Andreas Klden and Floyd Landis, among others, will compete in this year's race will surely boost its waning appeal. Add that to the hype surrounding the launch of the ProTour, and it's clear that the week-long race to the Mediterranean will resume its former significance. Certainly the route looks provocative enough, tracing a path south from the Parisian suburb of Issy les Moulineaux, home to ASO and L'Equipe, through the central Loire valley, down towards the Massif Central. After an overnight transfer to La Chtre, the race passes north of Clermont Ferrand and speeds to a finish in the spa town of Thiers. The climbing really gets going with the next stage, from Thiers to Le Chambon sur Lignon, which heads up through the Monts de Forez to the high plateau of the Ardeche. Weather permitting - blizzards and snowstorms have often affected the race in this region - this stage will probably see the first big showdown. Another day in the Ardeche takes the race to nougat-making capital Montlimar, on the banks of the Rhone river. The final three days traverse Provence and the Var, taking in a key finish at Mont Faron, which looks ideally suited to Armstrong's power-climbing techniques, and a probable mass sprint into Cannes. The final day is the now traditional Nice-Nice stage, but in practical terms the race is usually over before the final gallop past the roller-bladers, poseurs and poodles thronged along the Promenade des Anglais. The route: March 6, Prologue: Issy les Moulineaux, 6.6km. March 7, stage one: Etampes-Chabris, 186.5km. March 8, stage two: La Chtre-Thiers, 191km. March 9, stage three: Thiers-Le Chambon sur Lignon, 171.5km. March 10, stage four: Le Chambon sur Lignon-Montlimar, 174km. March 11, stage five: Rognes-Toulon/Mont Faron, 176.5km. March 12, stage six: La Crau-Cannes, 184.5km. March 13, stage seven: Nice-Nice, 136km. Top 10 dates on the 'Race to the Sun' 1933: First Paris-Nice - the 'six days of the road' - is staged. 1955: Creation of white leader's jersey. 1968: First-ever prologue time trial is held as race opener. 1970: Jacques Anquetil becomes race director. 1971: First live colour TV broadcast of Paris-Nice. 1988: Sean Kelly of Ireland takes his seventh successive overall victory. 1989: Miguel Indurain becomes the first Spaniard to win Paris-Nice. 1995: Laurent Jalabert wins his first Paris-Nice (and also Milan-San Remo, a week later), as Lance Armstrong takes an impressive stage win in St Etienne. 1996: Armstrong is second overall in Nice, beaten by Jalabert. 2002: Alexandre Vinokourov becomes the first Eastern Bloc rider to win the 'Race to the Sun'.
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