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65th Paris-Nice - ProTour
France, March 11-18, 2007
By Hedwig Kröner
The 65th edition of the 'Race to the Sun', Paris-Nice, starting with a prologue in Issy-les-Moulineaux on the outskirts of Paris and finishing traditionally on the 'Promenade des Anglais' waterfront in Nice, will be opening the 2007 UCI ProTour series - but without officially being a ProTour race.
During the first few weeks of the 2007 European racing season, the stage race managed by Tour de France organiser ASO wasn't even guaranteed to take place. The omitting of ProTour team Unibet.com on the list of wildcard invitations led to a climax of hostilities in the ongoing battle between the organiser and the UCI, almost resulting in a complete breakdown of this year's racing calendar - were it not for the teams, who, one week before the start of the race, made the opposing parties sit down and figure out an emergency deal. Still, the awards ceremony of the ProTour leader's jersey at the end of the race will not take place in the immediate surroundings of the French podium protocolaire.
It is in this precarious climate that Paris-Nice will see some of the pro peloton's best young stage racers go for the overall win on the way to the Côte d'Azur, hopefully unharmed by the snow, rain and ice which have jeopardized the first stages of the race in the past. 2006 best young rider Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d'Epargne), Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel), Fränk Schleck (Team CSC), Philippe Gilbert (Française Des Jeux) and Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) could be the main contenders for the yellow jersey.
The more experienced Levi Leipheimer (Discovery Channel), recent winner of the Tour of California, Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) or Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) could also go for the final victory, but their main season objectives lie further down the road - the same goes for two-time winner Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), who chose not to participate at all due to his focus on the Tour de France later this season.
This year, Paris-Nice will take a new turn as the peloton will pass France's central mountain range, using the Central Massif on its western side instead of heading straight towards the Côte d'Azur on the eastern side as it had been of use previously. The first three stages have been characterised typical sprinters' stages (no doubt the perfect playground for bunch sprint star Tom Boonen (Quickstep-Innergetic) and his only rival at the race, Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Fondital)), whereas the second part of the week will offer opportunities for breakaways and climbers, especially stage five through the Haute Provence where riders won't have time to savour the blossoming prune trees...
The most decisive ascension before the taking on the hinterland of Nice on the last day of the race will be the climb up the airport of Mende on stage four, which has been re-named 'Montée Laurent Jalabert' since the famous French cyclist won a Tour de France stage there in 1995.