With Paris- Nice round the corner, Jensie looks back on his experiences in one of his favourite races
Our race columnist on the latest events
We are at the dawn of another edition of Paris-Nice, the ‘Race to the Sun’. And for many years it was like that - sunshine and warm temperatures once you got to the Mediterrenean. Recently we seem to have it the wrong way round. Lately we have seen editions where they start in cold but sunny weather in Paris and then have rain all day for the last stages.
Paris-Nice is a very old and prestigious race. For many years it was the first serious test of the year and it is still the first really important stage race in Europe so there is always pressure. All the WorldTour teams fight, because the order of the team cars for the Classics is based on WorldTour points. We all agree, I am sure, that all teams would rather have car number one then car number 17 for Flanders and Roubaix, right?! The French teams go all crazy because outside the Tour it’s probably the second-biggest race in France, and the selection for riders for the Tour team starts here already. I saw it every year in my six years with Crédit Agricole. And since it’s a race organised by the ASO (the Tour’s organiser), all the smaller teams used to go bananas because they wanted to earn a wild card for the Tour. Everybody has a reason to go full gas here.
The race has three parts. Some long stages to travel south and these stages are super nervous and stressful because of the permanent danger of crosswinds and many times we all have seen potential winners or favourites losing the GC already on the first or second stage. Then some hillier stages. The third part is the physically challenging stages in and around Nice. These days clearly favour the climbers.
Some Paris-Nice winners are not exactly tiny climbers. Good and strong all-rounders are made for this race. Like Luis León Sánchez or Geraint Thomas. What a legend Sean Kelly is for winning this event seven years in a row. I had his pictures on my wall when I was a kid. This man was made from steel, always reliable and hardworking. There was never a lucky winner of this race, it was always hard work to win it. And it was always a really hard race which demanded the whole set of skills. Time trialling, climbing, crosswind riding, downhills, bonus sprints and fighting for positions. And really important: just don’t crash, because it’s a nervous race.
Times have changed. Steve Bauer once won the prologue with 1,000km in his legs. Total kilometres, not just racing kilometres. Can you believe, the first weekend of March and all you trained was 1,000 km?! Believe me, if you try that today you will be out of the time limit already at the prologue, period.
I did this race many times and finished in the top 10 six times. I actually won the first ever ProTour point after winning the prologue in 2005. And also in Paris-Nice was the moment where I was officially the best sprinter in the world. That year I won the green jersey in my first race of the year at Étoile de Bessèges, then again at the second race in the Tour of the Med. Then I won the green jersey in my third race of the year, in Paris-Nice. And to put it in perspective, a certain Tom Boonen was second in the points that year. Three races and three times I won the overall competition for the green jersey. That made me officially the best sprinter of the world, no?!
It’s a crazy race full of surprises. Paris-Nice managed to keep the old glory and traditions alive yet adapted to more modern times in cycling. I always liked being part of it. It’s simply a great race.
Jens Voigt retired in 2014 following an 18-year career as one of the sport's most loved and attacking riders. He held the Hour Record for 42 days. Commentators never did agree how to pronounce his name.
Paris- Nice is a really hard race which demands the whole set of skills. And really important: just don't crash, because it's a nervous race
Sean Kelly, the seven-time ParisNice winner, is one of Jensie's heroes