Paris-Nice 2010 Prologue

The annual Paris-Nice race begins today, this is known as 'the race to the sun' and was created in the 1930s by Albert Lucas to promote two newspapers he owned, one in Paris and the other in Nice. The race this year is over eight stages and 1288km.

Stage Type Date Start and Finish Distance
P Prologue - Time Trial Sunday 7 March Montfort-l'Amaury ⇒ Montfort-l'Amaury 8 km
1 Plain Monday 8 March Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines ⇒ Contres 201.5 km
2 Plain Tuesday 9 March Contres ⇒ Limoges 201 km
3 Plain Wednesday 10 March Saint-Junien ⇒ Aurillac 208 km
4 Mountain Thursday 11 March Maurs ⇒ Mende 173.5 km
5 Plain Friday 12 March Pernes-les-Fontaines ⇒ Aix-en-Provence 157 km
6 Mountain Saturday 13 March Peynie ⇒ Tourrettes-sur-Loup 220 km
7 Mountain Sunday 14 March Nice ⇒ Nice 119 km
Table Built: Sunday, 07 March 2010 09:52 UK

Today is the prologue, a fast 8km starting and finishing at Montfort-l'Amaury, which is about 40-50km west of Paris' centre, and about 20km from the outskirts. It's a flattish 8km course, the mountain jersey is on offer though, as the Côte de Boursouffle carries a category 3 rating.

It's a time trial today, which isn't my favourite stage. I like the mountain stages, closely followed by the flats. The reason for the time trial is to sort out the initial classification in a 'pure' way, without other riders affecting the performance of an individual.

If you've never watched cycling before, you might like to give it a try (you may like the time trial). There are several competitions taking place at once. The first is the general classification, or the yellow jersey. This is worn by the rider who has the shortest cumulative time. Points are awarded for crossing the line first, second etc - and the points jersey is the second competition. It is possible to win the general classification without winning many stages, and vice versa. This is the green jersey. Note that the colours can differ in different races. The 'King of the Mountains' is the polka dot jersey. Points are awarded for being first up the steep hills. The white jersey is for the best young rider.

There's a lot of tactics involved. Generally, it's an easier ride in the peloton (the big group of riders) as there is less wind resistance, but there is a calculation to me made regarding a break. Should a rider break free from the peloton? Should the peloton let him go?

Sometimes a rider will break free to force someone to chase him. This will wear them both out and allow the first rider's team-mate who has remained with the peloton to arrive at the finish relatively fresh. Sometimes a group of riders will break free and work together to maintain the gap from the peloton.

Whether the peloton will chase will often depend on who is in that breakaway group - if the breakaway contains someone who is in contention for the yellow jersey and his team-mates, the holder of the yellow jersey may well break away from the peloton to join them. If this happens, the breakaway group could try and stay ahead (hoping to tire the chasing lone rider) - or if the lone rider catches, they may drop back into the peloton.

Different riders have different roles. A team will have sprinters, climbers or grimpeurs as well as domestiques. The job of domestiqueis unglamorous but vital. They will drop back to the following team car to pick up water and carry it to their team-mates, having to sprint repeatedly only to drop back again. They will burn themselves out allowing their team-mates to slip-stream behind them. For the domestiques it is all guts and no glory.

Alejandro Valverde is racing, though his case is in front of an arbitration court following a doping investigation in Italy.

Big names to watch for are Alberto Contador for Astana, who says he learned from last year's failure, Franz Schleck for Team Saxo Bank, and Levi Leipheimer for Team Radioshack.

Stage 1 is shown on British Eurosport at 2:50pm.