The Paris Nice stage race, the Race to the Occasional Sun, begins this Sunday and Belgian squad Omega-Pharma-Lotto brings four loaded guns. Defending champion Ton Martin, Levi Leipheimer, the aggressive Sylvain Chavanel and semi-sprinter Tom Boonen are all ready to attack.
“The team has a very high level line up,” said Sports Director Brian Holm. “There’s a lot of talent on the squad. Our goal is to fight for final victory.” So far this season we’ve heard little about Martin, now the World Time Trial Champion, but this will be the true start to his season. Fabian Cancellara, pay attention.
Weather forecasts predict clouds and rain around the Paris region but later in the week, as the race heads South to Nice, there’s sunshine according to the experts. Recent editions of Paris-Nice have been nasty and dangerous with bad conditions.
Brian Holm has been around long enough to know that Paris-Nice is always unpredictable and the weather often has an impact. “It will be a hard fought Paris-Nice, we’ll have to ride paying close attention to hidden hazards on the route. As far as we’re concerned we’re going to race to try to protect our leaders and set them up in the best conditions to play for final victory. The group is very strong and suited to any type of terrain.”
New this year is the return of the Col d’Eze, a category one time trial that’s sure to appeal to both Martin and Leipheimer — who won last year’s inaugural US Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado with victory in the uphill TT in Vail. The little man from Santa Rosa, California loves that kind of suffering.
As a bit of cycling history, Greg Lemond first tested his new carbon bike, the one he would later ride in ’91 Tour de France, on the Col d’Eze. Lemond and his entire Team Z had refused to ride their TVT carbon bikes — they were too flexy.
But by chance, Lemond had discovered a small carbon pioneer named Craig Calfee and his small shop in San Francisco. After faxing specs, Calfee built a frame in four days and shipped it to France. Lemond went nuts and insisted Calfee fly out immediately to be there for the Paris-Nice test.
He loved the way the bike climbed but informed Calfee at the top of the mountain that the real test was the descent because “all carbon bikes descend like shit.” Lemond then bombed the descent back down to Nice and raved about the performance — the bike “descended like a demon.”
Big Mig would win that ’91 tour and Lemond would finish 7th but the carbon bike was a winner. Everybody at the 2012 Paris-Nice rides carbon but it all started on the Col d’Eze.
For the full and fascinating story on Calfee and Lemond’s carbon bike for the ’91 Tour, be looking for Cycle Sport magazine. There will be plenty of stories and quotes from both Calfee and Lemond.