There are good weeks in cycling – plenty of them. The first week of a Grand Tour. The week leading up to Flanders. And there are great weeks: Holy Week, of course. The final week of the Giro d’Italia. World Championships week.

But in terms of a self-contained and complete narrative that unfolds over the course of exactly one week, there’s something about this first week in March that captures the magic and madness of men’s pro cycling like no other. The concurrent week-long stage races of Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico may give rise to a few headaches as cycling fans try to juggle two screens, and keep up with two separate top level pelotons, trying to remember who is where at any given time, but just as Omloop het Nieuwsblad is the curtain-raiser to Classics season, so the Race to the Sun and the Race between the Two Seas serves as an appetiser to Grand Tour season, with a look at the main contenders, a hint of what’s to come, and some battle royales across a variety of disciplines, all packed into eight crazy, brilliant days.

Suggestions that having both running simultaneously is too confusing, or deprives fans of seeing the best go up against one another at the earliest possible opportunity, are valid, yet for me it's the dual narrative that really makes this week so special. It establishes suspense, building tension as we head toward the summer, keeping rivals apart and testing different sets of riders against one another - let's face it, there are more than enough quality GC riders to make both races interesting, and plenty more races to be ridden before La Grande Boucle.  

Like a complex novel, two storylines emerge, as each year one race or the other shines brighter, on any given day: which race will provide the main plot and which the subplot as both evolve with their own unique twists and turns throughout the week?  

Paris-Nice traditionally kicks things off, as the riders based in Italy are mostly recovering from their efforts at Strade Bianche, so there’s a little aperitif as the race rolls out of ‘somewhere in the vague region of Paris’ and usually a first bunch sprint to whet the appetite. The races usually share the field of top sprinters, though Paris-Nice often seems to boast a more high profile line-up, perhaps courtesy of the prestige, or perhaps because it tends to include an extra opportunity.

Stage 1 ended up being a tougher day for the pure sprinters than anticipated, with the GC riders taking their chance to kick things off on the climb and fight for a few bonus seconds, thereby dropping the likes of Dylan Groenewegen, Fabio Jakobsen and Arnaud Démare. The sprinters who hung on over the climb were free to fight for the line in a typically high-speed, chaotic final, with first blood going to Olav Kooij of Visma-Lease A Bike, who swapped his yellow team jersey for the yellow leader’s jersey, as the first leader of the race.

It’s Monday, Jim, but not as we know it.

And so Monday came around. So often a day which is greeted by the dreaded sight of ‘No UCI races’ on the calendar, even in the thick of it, mid-season, when the day is often given over to rest and recovery, even during the Grand Tours. This week though, we juggle two races at a time. Many fans express frustration at trying to follow two races at once and I get it – it’s not the easiest. But it’s made somewhat easier by the staggering of start times. Tirreno begins pleasingly early, just after 12.00 GMT, so I sat down with lunch only to witness the unspeakably bizarre new time trial helmet being debuted by Visma-Lease A Bike, as stage 1’s ITT got underway in Camoire. The unfolding mirth on social media seemed to announce that the madness had officially begun.

Almost two hours of watching riders race against the clock produced a number of takeaways: Kévin Vauquelin (Arkea-B&B Hotels) and Max Poole (Team dsm-firmenich PostNL) were in excellent shape, in terms of the GC. Vingegaard? Well, it wasn’t his kind of course, new helmet or not, but he logged a decent time. It was not his day for the win though, those honours went to UAE Team Emirates’ Juan Ayuso who absolutely drilled the course to beat some of the biggest engines in the peloton, winning by a single second over Filippo Ganna, with his track team pursuit teammate Jonathan Milan in third.

So the Paris-Nice coverage kicked in and found the peloton rolling along at a stately pace, with the likelihood of a sprint finish more nailed on, on stage 2, courtesy of the flatter profile. Despite all the talk about Pedersen, Kooij and Bennett, it was Tudor Pro Cycling who put on an absolute demonstration in the final stages of the race, drilling their lead-out and positioning Arvid de Kleijn perfectly to finish it off for the team. Laurence Pithie came through in second and his consistent results assured he would become the second rider to wear the race leader’s yellow jersey, going into stage 3, in what has been a break-out season so far for the young Kiwi.


It was billed as a head-to-head between last year’s best sprinter, and the best sprinter so far this year, Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Tim Merlier (Soudal-QuickStep), in the first proper road stage at Tirreno. And so it proved in the end, though to look at the results would not tell the whole story of how the sprint unfolded. Merlier seemed to begin his sprint far too early, before giving up, then starting again – somehow despite the misfire, he still managed to come second, but it was Jasper Philipsen who opened his 2024 account with an assured sprint victory.

Paris-Nice kicked in with 40km to go in Tirreno, and it was team time trial day. While the new rules brought into play in 2023 raised questions over team strategy, everyone was talking about the Visma helmet train and little else as the first teams began to roll off of the starting ramp, and we were treated to some picturesque drone footage as the trains trundled alongside the Yonne river.

Teams launched their efforts and as the skies grew steadily darker, it appeared that setting off early was definitely going to be an advantage. The main beneficiaries of this were Team Jayco-Alula and UAE Team Emirates, though it must be noted that both these teams always fare well in a team time trial. UAE with their host of potential GC leaders were supposedly due to work out who they were riding for during the time trial, but with five of their eight riders arriving at the line together, it turned out not to be as clear cut as the team might have hoped – the leadership questions rumbled on as the team won the day.

Remco Evenepoel’s Soudal-QuickStep were hampered by the rain, losing 22 seconds to the stage winners, and current leader Laurence Pithie’s Groupama-FDJ team could only manage 14th, with Pithie leading out team leader David Gaudu across the line, 1.01 in deficit and the worst placed of all the main GC hopefuls aside from Lidl-Trek, who were really hammered by the rain. Visma-Lease A Bike could only manage 6th, even with the giant shark-head helmets, and Primož Roglič managed to drop most of his team in a frantic effort not to lose time - a poorly executed race plan meaning he and his only remaining BORA hansgrohe teammate Aleksandr Vlasov rolled over the line a disappointing 54 seconds down.

This is not a serious sport, version 396.

Wet Wednesday Woes

The weather wasn't up to much either in France or Italy on Wednesday, and the racing began to take its toll in Paris-Nice, with Arnaud De Lie not taking to the start and Michael Matthews abandoning, among others, meaning there were less sprinters, but it wasn’t a sprint day anyway, but the turn of the GC riders, with some climbing on the menu and the first chance for team leaders to really test their legs head-to-head. With seven categorised climbs and two ascents of Mont Brouilly, it wasn't the toughest of mountain stages, but there would be enough uphill stuff to properly separate the field.

Remco won some intermediate sprint points ahead of Primož, and on the penultimate climb, the only category 1 ascent of the day, Team Jayco-Alula's Luke Plapp stormed off solo with 25km remaining on the stage.

He was alone for a while, as a group of select favourites pulled clear behind him, but when Santiago Buitrago l(Bahrain-Victorious) launched away from them, it looked increasingly likely that with a lack of firepower in the chasing group, one of the two leaders would take the win. It was Buitrago, arguably the more seasoned climber, who was able to pull clear on the second ascent of Mont Brouilly. Remco tried to sprint for the remaining bonus seconds when the GC group arrived but he was pipped to the post by Lidl-Trek's Mattias Skjelmose.

At Tirreno, a crash in the final stages deprived the race of its full complement of sprinters, and it was Phil Bauhaus who was able to take advantage, winning stage 3 from Jonathan Milan and quite improbably, Arkea-B&B Hotel’s GC leader Kévin Vauquelin in third – the young Frenchman’s first World Tour level podium, in a season where he looks set to really deliver on the promise that he has shown so far.

Thursday: A Tale of Two Sprints

Only the strong survive, and Thursday saw a slew of withdrawals from Paris-Nice as the impact of the higher level of racing began to take its toll on a number of riders. Sadly for the teams with designs on a stage win, a fair few of the fallers were the sprinters themselves – Kaden Groves, Fabio Jakobsen, Julius van den Berg and Arvid de Kleijn all abandoned the race during the day, following the loss of De Lie and Matthews the previous day, while in Tirreno a few riders fell foul of illness and injury, but far fewer, and most of the sprinters would make it to give it their all in the final, though Mark Cavendish had succumbed to illness earlier in the week.

First up, Tirreno, and after a day with not a huge amount to write home about we had ourselves a clean final, despite the threat of potential danger – a dodgy, narrow left turn beset with road furniture gave rise to some nail-biting moments late on in the stage but miraculously, there were no fallers. The plucky breakaway riders gave it their all and while most of them were caught with 1km to go, Uno-X Mobility’s Jonas Abrahamsen fought up the final climb alone with the sprinters in hot pursuit – led by Tom Pidcock, who managed to close the gap to the Norwegian agonisingly close to the line, only for Pidcock to be swamped by the faster riders. Lidl-Trek’s power house Jonathan Milan who has a third and a second place already this week nicked over the line just ahead of Jasper Philipsen to go one better and take his first stage win.

Things were more straightforward in Paris-Nice, in the sense that the breakaway were safely mopped up with just under 10km remaining, at least. The sprint teams wanted a sprint, even though a number of the key players had already abandoned the race, and perhaps with the weakened sprint field in mind, a late attacking group threatened to disrupt the sprinters’ party for a while, but it was Remco Evenepoel himself who put paid to their ambitions, closing all the gaps himself, such is the man on a mission from Belgium.

So the sprint played out as expected in the end, and once again it was Olav Kooij who proved too fast for the rest, while once again, Mads Pedersen just missed out in second place.

While the jersey stayed with Plapp in Paris-Nice, the first day it had remained with the same rider since the start of the race on Sunday, in Tirreno-Adriatico the lead changed hands for the first time since Juan Ayuso took control of it in the opening stage time trial – Jonathan Milan moved into blue, though staying in it would prove almost impossible, with the mountains of Abruzzo lying ahead on Friday.


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