Nairo Quintana provides another reminder that he’s back
Following general classification victories at the Tour de La Provence and Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var, Nairo Quintana was once again looking like the Quintana of old. Coming into Paris-Nice, and with the likes of Ineos and Jumbo-Visma not making the start line, the Colombian was also one of the pre-race favourites.
Going into the final stage, though, he had lost enough time during an exciting week of racing that he wasn’t troubling the upper echelons of the GC, meaning the likes of Max Schachmann and Sergio Higuita were unlikely to stop him should he aim for stage glory.
And with 4km to go Quintana launched the sort of explosive attack that gave him victory at Chalet Reynard on Mont Ventoux where he took the stage win during the Tour de La Provence last month.
The Colombian powered away and built up enough of an advantage that when the GC race eventually got going behind he had already sealed his first-ever stage victory at Paris-Nice and taken his fifth win of 2020. Whenever the season resumes this year, the Arkéa-Samsic rider will be hoping the form he has found with his new team remains.
Tiesj Benoot comes bitterly close
Another rider finding his feet with a new team this year is Tiesj Benoot. Arriving at Sunweb having spent the first five years of his career with Lotto-Soudal, Benoot was looking to progress and start adding more victories to his palmarès following his 2018 Strade Bianche win.
Benoot impressed on stage six of Paris-Nice, working well with his team to take a solo victory in Apt. At the start of the final stage seven, the Belgian trailed race leader Schachmann by just 36 seconds and a decisive summit finish meant there would be movement on GC by the end of the day.
He attacked just before the flamme rouge, accelerating away from Pinot, Higuita and Vincenzo Nibali, while Max Schachmann just about held on. Despite the six bonus seconds on the line, Benoot had only managed to gain 12 seconds on his German rival, meaning he finished runner-up in the overall classification by 18 seconds instead of 36.
Things could have been different had Schachmann not been given the same time as his rivals on stage six. The German finished nearly 20 seconds off the pace after crashing in the final kilometre but commissaires implemented the 3km ruling and saved Schachmann’s blushes.
Benoot will be another rider despairing at the probable lack of Belgian Classics next month, having shown his class this week.
Thomas De Gendt shows the peloton how to self-isolate
If cycling fans are inconsolable about the lack of racing in the near future, spare a thought for Thomas De Gendt.
What will he do now? Train, sure, but the Belgian seems to need competitive kilometres.
The Lotto-Soudal breakaway specialist decided that he wouldn’t be doing justice to his final race for the forthcoming weeks if he didn’t once again get up the road. As Eurosport’s Rob Hatch pointed out during commentary, De Gendt was providing the rest of the peloton with a manual of how to perform social distancing while racing. Ultimately, as is often but not always the case, De Gendt’s efforts were ultimately futile as Quintana sprang past him in the final few kilometres. But that didn’t matter, really. De Gendt had played his part, as he always does.
“If you don’t shoot, you’ll always miss,” De Gendt said after the stage. “I gave it my all today. For myself, for my family, for my team, for the fans and for cycling.
Hopefully, De Gendt is wrong about that last part.
Julian Alaphilippe shows glimpses of 2019
Going into the race Julian Alaphilippe had been very candid about where his legs were at, admitting before the start that he was “exhausted” and physically behind where he needed to be.
On stage one there weren’t many signs of cobwebs, though, as Alaphilippe got himself into the decisive move alongside Benoot before being bested by Schachmann after the Frenchman was forced to do a lot of the work in the closing kilometres. A more in-form Alaphilippe would probably have taken the stage win ahead of the German but being at the sharp end of the race would have been encouragement enough for the Deceuninck – Quick-Step star.
Wednesday’s individual time trial was more of a disappointing affair as Alaphilippe finished 18th in the race against the clock located in his hometown. He was back at it again, however, on stage six as he finished in the front group alongside the likes of Thibaut Pinot and Nairo Quintana. So much for his supposed lack of form.
Then, on the final stage seven and in the true swashbuckling we’ve grown to expect from Alaphilippe, he was central to the day’s action, getting into the moves and animating the race, until eventually De Gendt dropped him on the final climb and Alaphilippe could finally relent, eventually crawling across the finish line ten minutes down on Quintana.
Even the biggest Alaphilippe fans won’t have expected the 27-year-old to match his 2019 season, he’s even said himself it is an impossible endeavour. However, that Alaphilippe retains his punchy enthusiasm for bike racing after a year where he won more in 12 months than what many dream of winning over an entire career shows the Frenchman is as hungry and competitive as ever.
No more racing for…a while
As the likes of Quintana, Benoot and Pinot ascended the final kilometres of stage seven, a sombre mood fell over the proceedings. A singular thought persisted: When will we see the professional peloton in action again?
This is a question that pales in comparison to the vastly more important issues the coronavirus outbreak presents, and Quintana’s post-race interview made this clear as the Colombian implored all those listening around the world to do as the authorities tell them to help thwart the virus.
Is the 2020 season now over? And if it resumes how much will we be left with? These are impossible questions to answer right now, although the one of whether Paris-Nice 2020 should have even taken place is up for debate.