Versailles (France) (AFP) - The 2020 Paris-Nice cycling stage race will boast a mouth-watering bevy of contenders, including defending champion Egan Bernal, for an event described as a "Tour de France warm-up".
Last year's "Race to the Sun" was a well-timed triumph for Bernal who went on to become the youngest post-war winner of the Tour de France.
The Colombian will face stiff competition in 2020 from two other emerging big guns in France's Julian Alaphilippe and Vuelta a Espana winner Primoz Roglic.
"This will be a real battle between some of cycling's top stars, last year it revealed the Tour winner, as it has done so many times before," said Christian Prudhomme, president of the race organiser ASO.
Prudhomme listed French ace Thibaut Pinot, Slovenian 21-year-old Tadej Pogacar, who came third at the Vuelta, Colombian former Giro and Vuelta winner Nairo Quintana and Australian sprint ace Caleb Ewan as "part of an exceptional line-up".
Only a few of those riders will be targeting victory, but all will be racing with practice for the Tour de France high on their agenda.
"It really is looking more and more like a Tour de France warm-up," said Francois Lemarchand, the race director and a former rider.
- Paris-Nice then Nice-Paris -
"This year after Paris-Nice there will also be Nice-Paris," he said referring to the Tour de France which embarks from Nice and ends on the Champs Elysees.
The first major stage race of the cycling calendar, Paris-Nice starts on March 8 in the outskirts of Paris.
The second and third stages cross the vast windswept wheat and cornfields of the Beauce region south of Paris.
In 2019, Bernal set sail for a fabulous season, held his own in strong crosswinds despite his slight 'climber' physique while others had their hopes blown away.
Stage 4 is a 15km time trial around Alaphilippe's birthplace, Saint-Amand-Montrond.
The great French hope wore the yellow jersey for 14 days on the 2019 Tour de France where he won the individual time trial. He also won the time trial on Paris-Nice in 2017.
As the race heads towards the more clement south, the terrain becomes more challenging with four and six hills to climb on stages five and six.
The final weekend consists of two stages embarking from Nice, which mirrors the 2020 Tour de France which opens with two weekend stages that start in the city.
Saturday's penultimate stage includes a blockbuster 16.3km, 6.3 percent climb of the Col de la Colmiane which is also a key feature of the second stage of La Grande Boucle in June.
The race is likely to be decided atop the Colmiane, where Simon Yates won a stage in 2018. The Briton has yet to declare whether he will ride to Nice this season.
The finish line for Paris-Nice will be in front of the Allianz Rivera stadium home of Nice football club, owned since last August by Jim Ratcliffe, who also took over Chris Froome's Team Ineos last March.
The final stage features two major mountains with four climbs on the menu, culminating with a tricky descent into Nice.