The general feeling is that unless Van Garderen has an amazing day tomorrow, Paris-Nice will shake out it's GC on Mende and the Col d'Eze, and that the major players will be Wiggins, Leipheimer and Valverde. No one's too worried about Leipheimer: head to head, Wiggins has the beating of him in the time trial and probably on the open slopes as well. Valverde, on the other hand, has me bothered.
I know, I know, he's basically an uphill sprinter of the type that picks up Ardennes wins. More importantly, he's coming off the back of a two year lay off brought about by giving blood transfusions to his dog. I should have more confidence in Wiggins. Yes, Mende and Col d'Eze are sharp hills of the sort that Valverde likes, but it isn't that simple. Mende may be shorter than a mountain, but it's a hell of a lot longer than the Willunga or the climb up to Lac de Vassiviere where Valverde's fired off his late K hill sprints this season. If he dashes off in the last K, he won't take much time. If he attacks early on the cruel lower slopes he'll need to survive for an awful long time once the gradient settles down onto the longer, shallower grind of the sort that Wiggins time trialling diesel power allows him to tackle strongly.
That same logic applies to the Time Trial up the gentler slope of Col d'Eze-with only three of it's nine K breaking the 7% mark, and the bulk of it wavering between 3 and 5%, it's not the sort of climb that will worry Wiggins. It may be a mountain time trial, but the emphasis is definitely on time trial.
So why am I nervous? I suppose because Mende, or the Montee Jalabert as they call it these days, is meaner than you'd think. Remember Andy Schleck climbing it 2010? His eyes went wild, his jaw went slack, and he drooled like a baby. He's known as a Mende-hater, but he's still one of the best climbers in the world. The Montee Jalabert can give riders a nasty surprise. I hope it doesn't shock Wiggo.
I was going to illustrate my fears with footage of Schleck's suffering, but no one wants to see an irritating Luxembourger dribbling and enfeebled, so I'm signing off my Mende worries with a happy memory and the greatest tune ever to come out of a stylophone and wah wah guitar: