Relationships between the organisers of the grand tours and the UCI are a little cool at the minute, and the 63rd Paris Nice kicked off the first ProTour in a very chilly Paris. A false winter sun cast long shadows across the boulevards, while snow clung to the rooftops and Parks as a bitter northern wind rattled around the grand buildings of Issy-les-Moulineaux (Hauts-de-Seine).
A star studded cast of the 20 ProTour teams and, representing the Continental teams, just one member, AG2R, a team who for the first time in its long sponsorship have recently been embroiled in “dopage”.
Six time Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong (Discovery Channel), his eyes firmly on the Yellow Jersey of the Tour and not the White and Yellow of Paris Nice, found the going a little tougher than in recent years when he has ridden the Tour d'Algarve as his first race. The Texan started his 2005 season in 140th position, losing 27 seconds to the day's winner over 4 kilomètres.
The day belonged in effect to Team CSC. Jens Voigt, clear race favourite after his scintillating form in the Tour Méditerranéen, had obviously made a full recovery from the stomach bug of last week. With the CSC team at one stage holding 3 of the top 4 places, Voigt used his sheer power to spin around the course, finishing two seconds ahead of Mr Contre le Montre, resplendent in his full red Swiss kit, by two seconds.
”I'm very proud and also very happy about this victory. The team has had a great year so far, and it's great to be able to continue in this way. We have been working extremely hard during the winter, and it's paying off now. I've won a very prestigeous leader's jersey here in Paris-Nice, and I really hope we're able to hold on to it for the rest of the race. We have a very strong line-up, and I know, I'll get all the support I could possibly want from my team mates,” said a happy Jens Voigt after his victory.
”We've had a fantastic start to this race, and I was very impressed, that all our riders did well in the prologue. Jens is flying at the moment, and of course this heightens our expectations for a big result. We've been training so hard ahead of Paris-Nice, and now we have once again shown that we have done our homework. We have a lot to be proud of at the moment, and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the whole team and all our employees for their efforts, which make it possible for us to achieve results like this,” said Bjarne Riis.
The only team approaching this sort of form were Liberty Seguros with Jörg Jaksche, who had won the race last year with CSC, now back with Manolo Saiz, and young gun Alberto Contador led the charge for the Liberty Team, finishing 7th, while the team took second place in the Team Competition.
That said, 4 kilometres do not make a stage race - and there are plenty of contenders in the wings - Michael Rogers 10th at 6 seconds, Philippe Gilbert 13th at 7 seconds, Thomas Voeckler 14th at 7 seconds, Davide Rebellin 19th, Jörg Jaksche 20th, Franco Pellizotti 34th at 10 seconds and Rik Verbrugghe, Paolo Savoldelli, Alejandro Valverde, Yaroslav Popovych and Martinez all within 13 seconds.
All these riders, and more beside, have teams strong enough to pounce should CSC falter.
Tomorrow should see a sprinters' finale after 186 kilometres between Etampes and Chabris. With the cold weather continuing, tomorrow may be the last day for any rider not finding his racing legs quickly enough. It looks like being a cold, hard and fast race to the sun.
Full Results in Paris Nice Prologue Report, link below.