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Cycling: Slovenian stars set to shine

After a big weekend for one-day racing rounded off February, stage racing is the focus for a week or so from Sunday.

The 80th edition of Paris-Nice starts on Sunday, while across the Alps, Italian fans get to see their heroes, including the reigning Tour de France champion, in action as Tirreno-Adriatico rolls out for the 57th time on Monday.

Both have attracted stellar fields and with each possessing their own unique attributes, are sure to produce thrilling racing.
A classic route

The field that assembles in Mantes-la-Ville on Sunday will know what to expect, but whether they will be prepared or not is a different matter.

Organisers Amaury Sport run this race and the Criterium du Dauphine, as well as the Tour. The routes for Paris-Nice and the Dauphine are often designed like mini-Tours and the next week will take in crosswinds, a time-trial and a dip into the Alps, before finishing with a lumpy Stage 8, both starting and ending on Nice's Promenade des Anglais.

Roglic out for revenge?

Primoz Roglic may well be the Olympic time-trial champion and a two-time Vuelta a Espana winner but he is still to really crack racing in France. The Jumbo Visma rider famously lost out on the penultimate day of the 2020 Tour, while despite winning three stages at last year's Paris-Nice, a crash on the final day saw him miss out on the title to Max Schachmann.

Roglic is 4/7 to cross the line next Sunday still in possession of the Yellow Jersey but will need to be wary of Bora Hansgrohe's Schachmann, who is 14/1 to win the race and emulate Eddy Merckx, Laurent Jalibert and Sean Kelly by claiming a third straight title.

Another Jumbo Visma man in Wout van Aert could be an interesting case at 11/1 and is sure to be given his head on the flatter days, while 7/1 Adam Yates, 11/1 Nairo Quintana and 14/1 Joao Almeida should also animate the race. However, having won eight of his last 11 week-long or shorter races, Roglic will take some beating.

No quarter given

There will be daily challenges, though, with time-trial specialists such as EF Education-EasyPost's Stefan Bissegger, who won against the clock in last year's race, again capable of topping him in Wednesday 13.4km.

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Fans of the quick men should also get excited, with Bora Hansgrohe's Sam Bennett set to go up against Almeida's Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl colleague Fabio Jakobsen and Team BikeExchange-Jayco's Dylan Groenewegen.

An equally difficult challenge

Tirreno-Adriatico may not carry the same mystique as its French cousin but it offers equally thrilling racing. With grippy roads, plenty of climbs and often a lot of rain, the "race between two seas" rarely disappoints.

The 2022 edition starts with a time-trial at Lido di Camaiore on the Mediterranean coast before reaching the Adriatic, heading back inland and finishing with a flat stage around San Benedetto del Tronto, perhaps with a nod to Milan-San Remo on 19th March.

With two days of 200km+ racing, a time-trial and a double ascent of Marco Pantani's favourite climb of Monte Carpegna, it will be a real workout.

Pogacar the real star

With two Tour de France titles to his name at the tender age of 23, defending champion Tadej Pogacar is the star attraction.
The UAE Team Emirates star won two stages on the way to overall glory at last month's UAE Tour and is one of a number in the field who will warm up with a trek across the Tuscan hills in Saturday's Strade Bianche.

Pogacar is a winning machine and will take some stopping but there is enough talent lining up to trouble him. The Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl duo of Julian Alaphilippe and Remco Evenepoel offer two different but equally potent threats, while Movistar's Enric Mas will be desperate to display his leadership qualities after being given the top role.

However, it could be Olympic champion Richard Carapaz of Team Ineos who proves to be Pogacar's biggest threat. The Ecuadorian's swashbuckling showing in Tokyo demonstrated his ability to snatch seconds and if he avoids leaking time in the opening time-trial, he will be very dangerous.

A new start for Sagan

Peter Sagan's switch to Team TotalEnergies raised eyebrows and his showings in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne were far from successful. However, he has often come to the fore in week-long races and will be looking to build form as he eyes a first win in Milan-San Remo, available at 33/1.

The days of Sagan dominating races in the same manner as Roglic may well be over for 'The Terminator' but he showed in winning the Points Classification at last year's Giro d'Italia that he is far from done.

The longer breakaway days are likely to suit him best. The greater power of Lotto Soudal's Caleb Ewan, Groupama-FDJ's Arnaud Demare, Alpecin-Fenix's Tim Merlier and last year's Tour de France Green Jersey, Mark Cavendish, suggest he could struggle to breakthrough in a bunch sprint.

Cavendish's uncertainty at Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl seems to have been settled and, after wins in the UAE Tour and Tour of Oman, another victory here would surely see him cut from his current 50/1 for a second Milan San-Remo success.

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