We’re mid-way through Paris-Nice. Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) holds the yellow jersey following three “sprint stages” that proved anything but straightforward fast finishes and an individual time trial. EF Education First – Drapac p/b Cannondale has shown its can’t-miss-us pink on the front or off the front of the peloton on every road stage. Although the results have yet to match the effort, there’s a sense of pride in the work being done and a sense of excitement in the possibilities that lie ahead as the Paris-Nice peloton heads towards the sun.
“The team is functioning well as a unit,” said sport director Charly Wegelius. “All the riders listed for the upcoming classics are progressing as we hoped. Now that the general classification has taken some structure, we hope that there will be some space for the creative racing that suits us.”
Paris-Nice Stage 1
#PinkArgyle had a very visible day at Paris-Nice with Pierre Rolland in the early escape, swept up 13 kilometers from the finish. Lawson Craddock showed his continued return to form as he climbed towards the front of the punchy finish. He was our best-placed finisher, slotting into 20th place, finishing on bunch time, two-seconds down on stage winner Arnaud Demare (Groupama – FDJ)
“Today had quite a hard climb towards the finish with a cobbled drag in the final 800 meters, so we decided to focus on delivering Matti (Breschel) and I to the base in good position,” said Craddock. “Everyone did a perfect job all day, and I was happy to be up towards the front at the finish.
“It’s definitely no secret that we didn’t see the real me last year, and I’m motivated to change that this year,” Craddock added. “I transitioned back to having Jim Miller as my trainer and have had an extremely productive off-season. I’ve come into this season in a better place both mentally and physically than I’ve ever been before, and each time I step on the bike I gain more and more confidence. While it’s a long and challenging week, we are all very excited about our chances going forward.”
Paris-Nice Stage 2
A sedate start gave way to a very fast second half before a scrappy sprint closed out Paris-Nice stage two. Dylan Groenewegen (Lotto-Soudal) won in Vierzon. EF Education First – Drapac p/b Cannondale had hoped to set things up for Dan McLay in the final, but poor positioning cost McLay a clear shot at the line.
“We got a bit lost towards the end and spent a bit too much energy, but in the last corner I was a little too far back,” said McLay. “I tried to move forward in the saddle after the corner but it took too much energy and I ran out of legs to sprint.”
Paris-Nice Stage 3
The final climb on Paris-Nice stage three shook up Tuesday’s stage and made for some explosive racing in the last 30 kilometers. The early breakaway was swept up before the last of three category three climbs on the 210 kilometer route. In the end, the race came back together except for three riders that slipped off the front on the finish circuit descent. Sanchez, Jonathan Hivert (Direct Énergie) and Remi Di Gregorio (Delko–Marseille Provence KTM) finished 38″ ahead of the bunch with Hivert taking the stage win and Sanchez moving into yellow.
Matti Breschel was top #PinkArgyle, finishing in 25th place in the main bunch. Following the stage, he said: “The teamwork here has been great. It’s a really good group of guys. We’re really working together, especially in the finals where it gets all hectic and stressful. We’re always able to find each other and stay together. That’s the first step you need before you can make the result. But result-wise we still need that extra bit of luck, I think. I’m sure we have what it takes and it will come. Now obviously the mountains are coming, so it’s a bit different. Hopefully Lawson Craddock and Pierre Rolland can stay with the best.”
Paris-Nice Stage 4
Wout Poels (Team Sky) won the stage four individual time trial while Sanchez hung onto the yellow jersey he moved into following his stage three victory. Lawson Craddock was top #PinkArgyle in 36th place, 1’29 down on Poels.
“Lawson’s performance was pleasing to see,” said Wegelius. “He wasn’t particularly happy with his ride, and that is typical of ambitious riders. But the fact remains that he has walked a long path back to the front end of races following his health struggles last year. He has never stopped applying himself, and such a performance would have been unthinkable for him a few months ago. Step-by-step, he is coming back to his real level, and that’s a pleasure to see.”