PARIS: Cycling’s Paris-Nice embarks Sunday with all the difficulties of a Grand Tour packed into an eight-stage jaunt to the French Riviera beachfront finish-line that lends the event the nickname ‘Race to the Sun’. Double defending champion Maximilian Schachmann of Bora Hansgrohe will be tested in cross-winds in the open plains, on a tricky individual time-trial and in both hilly and outright mountainous terrain in the Ardeche and the low Alps. He will be pushed all the way on this 80th edition of the event by Jumbo-Visma leader Primoz Roglic, who will be chaperoned by newly-signed Australian all-rounder Rohan Dennis, who joined from Ineos and who is capable of a tilt at the title himself. English rider Adam Yates leads the Ineos roster shorn of its injured star Egan Bernal, but featuring 2018 Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas. Reigning Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar is absent with Joao Almeida and Brandon McNulty flying the flag for Team UAE. Sunday’s opening run is largely flat but two late climbs may close the door for the outright fastmen such as Quick Step’s Fabio Jakobsen and Ireland’s Sam Bennett. Instead less bulky riders such as Jumbo’s Wout Van Aert or Sonny Colbrelli of Bahrain, may thrive on day one and over the early stages. A short but tough 14km time-trial on day four ends with a steep climb over the final 800m. The first mountain stage in the Ardeche region on Thursday will test early season climbing legs, but the title is likely to be decided on Saturday. Rain is expected for the final weekend in Nice with temperatures not much higher than those in Paris. The terrain goes higher though and the penultimate day’s 1650m summit finish on the Col de Turini in the Nice back-country provides a spectacular ascent that will rubber stamp the winner as a contender for the Tour de France in July. French outfit Arkea Samsic believe their leader Nairo Quintana of Colombia can win there and maybe clinch overall victory. “He says it and we say it too, Nairo is going for the win,” said the team’s manager Emmanuel Hubert. The final stage may only be 115km long but features five climbs and a daredevil 16km downhill dash to the finish-line at Nice’s iconic Promenade des Anglais. Stages Stage 1 — Sunday, March 6: Mantes-la-Ville to Mantes-La-Ville 159.8km (flat) Stage 2 — March 7: Auffargis-Orleans 159.2km (flat) Stage 3 — March 8: Vierzon to Dun-le-Parastel 191km (flat) Stage 4 — March 9: Domerat – Montlucon 13.4km (individual time-trial) Stage 5 — March 10: Saint-Just-Saint-Rambert to Saint-Sauveur-de-Montagut 189km (mountain) Stage 6 — March 10: Courtezon-Aubagne 214km (hilly) Stage 7 — March 11: Nice – Col de Turini 155.5km (mountain) Stage 8 — March 12: Nice – Nice 116km (hilly).