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Itís not just one race.

Sure everyone knows the biggest race in France is the Tour de France. But there is another race that many riders set as their number one goal and program their season to win. That would be Paris-Nice and as of right now the race has been cancelled because of problems securing sponsorship. This early season stage race is as critical a component in setting up a riderís fitness as the backbone is to the body. Without it everything collapses.

We are not talking about one race disappearing off the calendar. We are talking about completely changing the way riders would have to prepare for the World Cups and the Classics. Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, essentially held at the same time, are critical races in helping a rider reach peak form for the classics. You might be thinking whatís the big deal if one race collapses, there is always the other. The problem is that most teams have already committed to one or the other and it would be impossible to change. There is only so much space in the peloton and once you reach about twenty teams thatís the end of the line.

Making it even more difficult for the teams is the fact that the organizers of established races can dictate who they want to take or not take. There is no guarantee that a number one ranked team in the world could go and do a smaller replacement race in France. Itís up to the discretion of the organizer. Many times the organizer will demand that you send your teams top riders or they wonít allow entry of the team. All the organizers want the Armstrongís, Ullrichís, Jalabert, Olanoís, etc. If the promoter doesnít get the riders he wants then they tell the team they canít race. This becomes a big problem, especially at the start of the year, when the directors of the teams are trying to schedule races for all their riders. A teamís star can only be in one place at one time. He might be able to secure a spot for eight of his guys but what are the other sixteen supposed to do in the meantime. This is why every race is an important race; it provides the riderís an opportunity to race. Paris-Nice falls into a different category. Itís not just another race because it provides the bridge from training races to the real races.

Paris-Nice is the first long stage race of the year. Itís the first time to really test yourself against the best riders and to test your body in its recovery and level of fitness. The race is eight days long where as most of the previous races have all been only four to five days. The fitness a rider gains from doing an eight-day race the week before Milan San Remo and two weeks before the first classics is instrumental in his success. Without it there would be no fighting chance. Some teams have talked about doing training camps to try and take the place of Paris-Nice. Do you think Laurent Jalabert will get the same conditioning at a CSC training camp as trying to win Paris-Nice. It may sound good on paper but this is one of those theories that never work. If Paris-Nice does not take place this year I would bet that not one rider will finish in the top ten in Milan San Remo unless he came from Tirreno Adriatico.

Paris-Nice is not just another race; itís the crutch to preparing many riders for an entire season. I would think the Societe Tour de France would know this. They were in Negotiations with Laurant Fignon on taking over the responsibility of the race. For some reason the negotiations broke down but I believe they have to look past the purely monetary value of the race. They need to open their eyes and look further down the year to see how this race leads to all the other races. They better be careful because by losing this race it will affect the French much worse than the other countries. Tirreno-Adriatico will invite the Italians, Murcia will invite the Spanish, and the Dutch, French and Belgians will be fighting it out for the leftovers. If the cancellation of Paris-Nice is a sign of things to come then it wonít be long before the leftovers are finished.

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