With a strong start to the season already for Team Sky, Neil Monnery is expecting Geraint Thomas to lead them to glory in the Paris-Nice this week...
"A good performance here will set up his season where he could be the lead rider for Team Sky at either the Giro d'Italia or the Vuelta a España. He also has Olympic hopes and it isn't crazy that his team will name him as a second protected rider at the Tour de France alongside early favourite Chris Froome."
March 6-13, 2016
Live on Eurosport
The UCI World Tour gets back under way following a long hiatus after the Tour Down Under with the 74th staging of the classic Paris-Nice this week. After Sunday's prologue, the event really gets going with the 121 miles first stage from Condé-sur-Vesgre to Vendôme on Monday.
Long seen to be the first big European cycling race of the year, it attracts plenty of big names with the likes of Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), Richie Porte (BMC) and Geraint Thomas (Sky) going off as the early favourites. The winner is expected to come from this group with the two tough mountain stages on Friday and Saturday being the key to be wearing the yellow jersey come close of play on Sunday.
Team Sky have already had a strong start to the season with Columbian Sergio Henao impressing in Australia to finish third in the event. Thomas has tasted victory at the Volta ao Algarve, where he defended his 2015 crown and team leader Chris Froome, who isn't riding here having tasted glory at the Herald Sun Tour. They are sending a strong team to France with Thomas heading a team including Ian Boswell, Sergio Henao, Mikel Nieve, Nicolas Roche, Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard and Ben Swift.
Contador is the early favourite at [3.4] on the exchange and he's found form in what could be his last season on the tour. He won the final mountainous stage at the Volta ao Algarve. This is the first time he's ridden Paris-Nice since 2010 and after the opening day prologue said his legs felt in decent shape. He is the favourite because of name recognition but with his sights firmly set on the Grand Tours, his price seems too short to me as he'll look to get in tip top shape for the Giro d'Italia in May.
Porte is the defending champion having won under the Team Sky banner in 2015. This year he's part of the BMC Racing team and at [8.6] is liked on the markets.
He fell agonisingly short at winning the first UCI World Tour event of the year coming in just nine seconds behind winner Simon Gerrans. His form has fluctuated over the past couple of years but when he's on, he's a rider capable of challenging not only at the classics but also at the Grand Tours. His performance on Mont Vernoux last year was extremely impressive. He hasn't been assured of being team leader at the Tour de France yet, so this is a big week for the Australian.
Yet this race has most riding on it for Thomas. The Welshman was in contention to get on the podium at the Tour de France last year until he was shoved into a telegraph pole on Stage 16. He's in his last year as a contracted Team Sky rider and many are wondering whether he'll leave them to become lead rider for another team.
A good performance here will set up his season where he could be the lead rider for Team Sky at either the Giro d'Italia or the Vuelta a España. He also has Olympic hopes and it isn't crazy that his team will name him as a second protected rider at the Tour de France alongside early favourite Froome.
This is a big week for Thomas and I fully expect him to be ready for it. At [5.0] he's a great price to win this race and slingshot himself into what could be a magical season. We've all seen that he's become one of the best out there and giving him a chance and surrounding him with seven very strong team mates, it looks like Team Sky are giving him all the support he needs to get his best result on the road of his career.
Back Geraint Thomas to win Paris-Nice at [5.0]