Roglič the latest superstar to return to racing
Following the winning returns of Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Julian Alaphilippe (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) last month, now it’s time for the oldest of contemporary cycling’s superstars to try and open his account for the 2022 season.
Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) has been virtually unstoppable in stage races over the past few years, with last year’s Paris-Nice being one of the rare few he didn’t win.
The absence of Pogačar (who’s riding Tirreno-Adriatico instead), and the fact that recent seasons have shown he needs no time to gradually build up his form, makes Roglič the hot favourite for the overall title.
Jumbo-Visma are bringing a line-up that suggests they mean business, too. Supporting Roglič in the mountains will be Steven Kruijswijk and new signing Rohan Dennis, of whom much is expected, while Wout van Aert is on board too for what will be his first-ever Paris-Nice.
Along with Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) and EF Education-Nippo’s on-form Stefan Bissegger (who won the time trial stage here last year), Dennis and Van Aert will be among the select few riders capable of beating Roglič in the stage four time trial, where he’ll hope to lay the foundations for overall victory.
Then after that comes lots of climbing, which should also provide plenty of opportunities for the Slovenian to gain more time, especially the 15km mountain top finish at Col de Turini on stage seven.
That’s exactly what he did last year, when he won three stages in four days after the time trial in what was an astonishing run of form. Only a crash on the final stage prevented him from winning overall — this year he’ll hope to make amends, and prove that his tendency to lose overall leads when seemingly in complete control is truly and thing of the past.
Battle between the big teams
There was a time when Ineos Grenadiers would routinely win Paris-Nice. As Team Sky, they claimed six titles in just eight years between 2012 to 2019, in what came to become an annual reassertion of their dominance, that would demoralise their rivals ahead of what would be yet another Tour de France victory later in the year.
They are no longer the force they once were, however, and the last couple of editions have instead been won by Bora-Hansgrohe and Max Schachmann. Neither the rider nor the team are considered among the world’s very best (and it’s highly unlikely Schachmann would have won last year had Roglič not crashed), but are certainly becoming more of a force in stage racing — especially now they’ve signed the man who finished second behind Schachmann last year, Aleksandr Vlasov, who’s looking good having won Volta a la Comnitat Valenciana and finished fourth at the UAE Tour.
Even with both Schachmann and Vlasov working together for victory, they’ll struggle to win for a third year in a row, up against not only Jumbo-Visma but also cycling’s other super-team, UAE Team Emirates. Pogačar might be missing, but João Almeida and Brandon McNulty are both competing on the back of good form, and would both make a serious statement in the time trial.
And Ineos Grenadiers shouldn’t by any means be written off just yet, with Adam Yates leading the line fresh from another very impressive UAE Tour, where he placed second behind Pogačar. With Dani Martinez and Michal Kwiatkowski among those available to support him, and Ethan Hayter set to ride too, there’s a decent chance Ineos could reclaim the race they once called their own.
Quintana and Simon Yates among outsider challengers
As strong as Jumbo-Visma, Ineos Grenadiers, UAE Team Emirates and Bora-Hansgrohe look, there are some riders from less fancied teams that stand a chance of winning top honours.
For instance, Arkéa-Samsic’s Nairo Quintana has started the season like a house on fire, winning both the Tour de la Provence and Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var. It’s an uncannily similar start to the one he made in 2020, in which he won the exact two same races, and on which occasion he went on to take a victory on the queen stage of Paris-Nice and finish fifth overall. If he can lose less time on the stages prior to this year’s queen stage atop Col de Turini, an overall victory is not beyond him.
Likewise, Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) could use his similarly explosive climbing legs to put the big teams under pressure. He has unfinished business at this race having lost the overall lead on the final stage in 2018, and will relish the punchy stages that feature during the second half of the race.
Elsewhere, Ben O’Conor (Ag2r Citroën), David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), Guillame Martin and Ion Izagirre (both Cofidis) give hope to their respective French teams, while Jack Haig (Bahrain-Victorious) and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-PremierTech) are also outside bets to upset the big teams and take overall victory.
Jakobsen and Philipsen face-off in the sprints
Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) was the star of the sprints during the first WorldTour meet of the season at the UAE Tour, galloping his way to two stage wins, a runner-up finish, and the points classification.
However, in that race he didn’t have to come up against Fabio Jakobsen (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl), who has been winning even more prolifically during the early part of the season, with five victories to his name already — more than any other rider so far in 2022.
At Paris-Nice, they’ll face off at a stage race for the first time since last year’s Vuelta a España, where they battled for sprinting supremacy. That time Jakobsen just about came out on top with three wins to Philipsen’s two, and with the invaluable Michael Morkov joining the squad to help lead him out, the Dutchman might just have the edge — but it’s a very difficult one to call.
Despite their form, the bunch sprints at Paris-Nice won’t necessarily be a two-man contest. Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) wasn’t too far off Philipsen’s pace in the UAE, while Dylan Groenewegen will be a threat if his BikeExchange-Jayco team can position him well.
They’re the fastest four pure sprinters on paper, but look out also for Juan Sebastian Molano (UAE Team Emirates), Cees Bol (DSM) and Amaury Capiot (Arkea-Samsic) to be in the mix.
Unstraightforward sprint stages
Each of the first three stages of this year’s race look likely to end in bunch sprints, but this being Paris-Nice, it’s unlikely to be quite as straightforward as the quickest pure sprinter taking victory each time.
Firstly, there’s the threat of crosswinds, which so often wreak havoc on Paris-Nice, and which look again like they could be a factor, especially on the open, exposed roads during stages two and three.
And if you look closely, stages one and three aren’t quite so sprinter-friendly as they first appear: there’s a small but awkward climb towards the end of the former, and even more hills to negotiate during the run-in of the latter, including an uphill drag to the finish.
Therefore it might not be one of the pure sprinters mentioned above who dominates the sprints, but more of an all-rounder.
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) is the obvious name who springs to mind, but much will depend on how much freedom he has to go for the sprints while assisting Primož Roglič’s campaign for overall victory.
Bryan Coquard (Cofidis) is one of the riders who will relish those subtle rises in the finale, and has the form to be considered a contender; as would Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert-Materiaux), who would become the first ever rider from Eritrea to win a Paris-Nice stage.
In the event of crosswinds, classics riders with quick fast finishes could come into the fore, like Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious), the Trek-Segafredo duo of Mads Pedersen and Jasper Stuyven, and Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), who won Le Samyn earlier this week.
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Stephen Puddicombe is a freelance journalist for Cycling Weekly, who regularly contributes to our World Tour racing coverage with race reports, news stories, interviews and features. Outside of cycling, he also enjoys writing about film and TV - but you won't find much of that content embedded into his CW articles.
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