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Gallery: The best photos from Paris-Nice, the last race of the year?

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17 Mar 2020
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Analysis: What looks set to be the last race for quite some time gave the audience plenty of reasons to watch and here are the best photos from Stages 5, 6 and 7

Words Jack Elton-Walters Photography Chris Auld

In the face of a global pandemic and the growing death rate across Europe, the cancellation of sport seems - and is - of much lesser importance. But then the disruption of society and the normal way of life for the majority of people is often the bigger impact of outbreaks like the current coronavirus situation.

Sport brings joy and faux-misery in equal measure, plus often much-wanted distraction, and at times like these distraction is just what we need.

Across the Continent, borders are closing and all major gatherings have been banned. In Britain, the govenment has decided no regulatory alignment extends to matters of health and wellbeing too, spouting the words 'herd mentaility' at every opportunity. This is an approach that has been questioned by the World Health Organisation.

 

Before France's ban came into full effect, Stage 7 of Paris-Nice took on a 166.4km parcours from Nice to the summit finish at Valdeblore La Colmiane in what looks set to be the riders' last chance to race and the fans' last chance to watch for at least a few months - perhaps even for the rest of the year. In many respects it was a season in a day.

The pace went up in the breakaway and one after another the riders called it a day, either lacking the legs or going back to help a General Classification hopeful in the following peloton. There was just one rider left, and it would be most people's best guest and top choice for a rider practising self-isolation: Thomas De Gendt.

He even dropped last year's standout rider Julian Alaphilippe to forge on alone when most of the peloton would have been drilling themselves just to hold the Frenchman's wheel. As it was he couldn't make the move stick but he was fully committed until he was caught a few kiometres shy of the finish line.

 

Alaphilippe had been the virtual leader on the road for a while before fading towards the end, doing what he did over three weeks last July in one stage this spring.

Back in what was left of the peloton, the GC contenders were eyeing each other with suspicion. More than once the camera caught Nairo Quintana right over the other side of the road, his face as impassive as always, sizing up the opposition.

 

Romain Bardet popped out of the group for a do-or-die effort for a stage win. Classic Bardet, never afraid to risk losing in order to win but unfortunately all the credit due to him was, as is often the case, more for the effort than the outcome as his move didn't last very long at all.

In the group of favourites was the lone figure of yellow jersey holder Max Schachmann. Alone because, much like we see in the Grand Tours, a strong rider with a weaker team can sometimes find themselves isolated. He was simply left to cling to the wheel of Vincenzo Nibali who was being paced by Trek-Segafredo teammate Richie Porte.

We may never get to see for definite, with the Giro d'Italia already postponed and the shadow of COVID-19 creeping over the Tour de France, but this might be a window into the team orders Trek would have laid down for their best riders.

Two times winner of the race, eh Richie? Never mind, get on the front and set the pace for Vincenzo. Good lad.

 

Reducing all of his recent seasons into the final stage of the 2020 Paris-Nice, Quintana rode away on the climb and was completely unmatched in his ability going uphill to win the stage; if only he hadn't already lost so much time in the previous days he might have been in the frame for the overall.

Schachmann kept an attacking Tiesj Benoot just close enough to take the overall win. It's the biggest win of his career, he took the yellow from start to finish as well, and by default it looks set to be his biggest win of the season.

 

If you missed the stage, try and catch the highlights. In a normal year it would have a been a good but not exceptional day at an early-season stage race. In the current context it was an attention-holding day, a season compressed into a single stage, and could be the last live cycling any of us get to see on the television for some months to come.