Stage 1: 150 km
Rain splattered on our helmets and a cold foreboding wind cut through our winter gear as we stood on the start line. I jumped with every move over five riders, and when three slipped away, I held back content to release the early break. The wind picked up and blew the rain away. Fifty km in after a fast cobbled descent we turned right, Quickstep attacked, and that same wind shredded the peloton into small groups. Riders fluttered in the gutter, popped and resumed chasing from the group behind. I managed to work my way into the second and largest group on the road. The GC contenders, climbers, who could not rely on their brute strength alone to make the selection sent their teammates to the front to chase desperately. Just as the second group began to fracture on another open section the rider ahead of my swerved left. His rear skewer clipped my front wheel and broke a spoke. The team car was stuck behind the last echelon and I had to wait for a change. Our whole team missed the selections.
Stage 2: 200 km
The wind howled again and the temperature dropped to just above freezing. Rain soaked us and this time pounded steadily all day. The course map promised more crosswind chaos, but I never dreamed it would happen so soon. The peloton blew into pieces, echelons of riders struggling for two hundred kilometres. Alliances between competitors formed between those in each chasing thread of riders spread diagonally across the road. After two hours my entire body was numb. I had underdressed. My hands were too numb to feel the food in my pockets. The first group snapped the elastic and I settled into the largest group on the road. Again overall contenders missed the cut and were forced to surrender. I relied on the team car to open food for me. I knew I was in trouble when I squeezed to brake but when I looked my fingers weren’t even on the brakes levers. I couldn’t feel them for three hours. I tired to converse with other riders but my mouth was numb and I slurred my words like a drunk. After the stage I could not even undress myself. A week later, as I type this report, my thumbs and pinky fingers are still in pain from the nerve damage sustained during the stage.
Stage 3: 200 km
Broken but stubborn I jumped after the first two riders who attacked. That was the break for the day. We settled into a nice rhythm. Being out front perked me up a bit but the cold of the pervious stages had settled into my bones and continued to sap energy. With my attention free I could absorb the scenery and pointed out a deer bounding through a field far off. That excited my French companions. “In English how you say this animal?” We communicated through a mix of simple words and gestures. Our gap stretched to seven minutes, but the sprinter teams controlled the day. They cut our advantage down to under a minute with thirty five km remaining. My companions feigned fatigue and I took the bait. I pulled extra hard, holding nothing back to prolong our escapade, Then they attacked me. With twenty km to go I slipped back into the peloton. Kristian Sbaragli placed ninth in the sprint.
My roommate Reignart crashed, and abandoned with a separated his shoulder and heavy concussion.
Stage 4: 14 km Time Trial
A relative day of rest soothed the legs. Although it rained again and although I rode hard, I steered gently through the corners and was off my bike at the top of the steep finishing climb after twenty minutes.
Stage 5: 200 km
Small twisty roads and short climbs lead to the final sprint stage. Natnael made the breakaway, but the sprinters doomed them. After a long uncomfortable day jockeying for position, we turned into a headwind. I tried to help support Sbaragli by moving up the outside but he preferred to pick his own way through the middle of the madness. He placed 11th in a dangerous downhill sprint.
Stage 6: 195 km
Riders tossed their water bottles and anything that might weigh them down for the long uphill start. I attacked. Three riders joined me and halfway up the climb we had hammered a 1:20 advantage. However, we didn’t get off that easy. Counter attacks reeled us in by the top of the climb. Sixty riders crested together and the attacks continued. I caught my breath and continued throwing everything I could into making the break. At one point six of us held a twenty second advantage for ten km, but they caught us and the next move stuck. I had nothing left to give on the final two mountains and cruised to the finish in a big group.
Stage 7: 185 km
The queen stage brought us from the coast of Nice, France into snowcapped mountains. A twinge in my knee worried me, and I lost contact with the first group on the penultimate climb.
Stage 8: 115 km
I tagged attacks in the first fourteen km, the only stretch of flat road in the stage, then sprinted into position for the first climb. I could see the breakaway forming. I wanted to follow but had gone over my limit one to many times. An unending series of hairpin switchbacks midstage stretched out the peloton, when we reached open road at the bottom the peloton had split and I couldn’t even see the next group. It was my fault for being out of position. I rode as hard as I could to reach the next group on the road. We made our way over the final two climbs.
Overall I had hoped to show better form in Paris-Nice, but have learned that with patience it always comes, and races like this build an incredible amount of stamina and mental strength. “Trust in the process.” Factors like the cold and knee pain are impossible to quantify and some called this edition of Paris-Nice one of the hardest races on the calendar. I spent an extra day in Nice with my buddy, Ian Boswell and his lady Gretchen, and enjoyed being a tourist for a day in their European hometown.