It looked as if the young Gino Mäder (Bahrain-Victorious) was about to take a career-changing stage win at Paris-Nice…but that was before Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) decided he wouldn’t mind a third stage win to take his career tally up to 50 and add even more time to his lead at the top of the general classification.
After Mäder had survived the day’s break to be left alone off the front in the closing kilometres, Roglič surged from the GC group behind to nearly bring the 24-year-old Swiss rider back into the fold, but Mäder’s hope remained alive as the Slovenian and Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) hesitated in the final kilometre.
Five seconds up the road with 500m to go, it looked like Mäder had done enough but a final acceleration from Roglič with 300m to the line saw him sail past the exhausted rider to pip him on the line.
Schachmann led the GC group over the line five seconds later, Roglič’s advantage over the German now up to 52 seconds with one stage remaining.
Lucas Hamilton (BikeExchange) was fourth, with Aleksandr Vlasov’s fifth place moving the Astana man up to third on GC.
How it happened
Warm-ups on rollers were the order of the day before the start, with the climbing beginning at the flag drop of stage seven, a few lumps before the long drag up to Valdeblore La Colmiane.
In a surprise to no-one, Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) was amongst the 13 riders who headed off the front, as Anthony Perez added to his KOM lead by being the first over the top of the first categorised climb. The break also included Ineos’ Andrey Amador and Laurens De Plus and Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s Sam Bennett and Mattia Cattaneo, their gap a minute and a half with 100km to go.
A couple of second category climbs were up next, the Col de la Sigale, 6.6km at 5.5 per cent, followed by the Côte de Saint-Antonin, 6.2km at 5.3 per cent.
Perez was first over the top again, as Jumbo-Visma led the bunch behind, before the Frenchman also took maximum points on the Côte de Saint-Antonin.
After flirting with the two-minute mark, the gap was back down to 1-30 with 40km to go as the peloton began to turn the screw, dropping Arkéa-Samsic’s Nacer Bouhanni in the process.
DSM and BikeExchange then took over on the front of the peloton, as Perez dropped up ahead, his mission for the day completed.
Bennett’s efforts in the break was rewarded when he won the intermediate sprint, closing to within three points of Roglič’s lead, looking to make the green jersey on his back his own, with 12 riders remaining off the front, including EF’s Neilson Powless and Astana’s Alexey Lutsenko, the gap hovering at just over a minute with 25km remaining.
After an earlier mechanical, Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) was forced to chase back on with a team-mate’s bike, before stopping to change machine and under pressure to get back on once more.
As the gap began to increase, the breakaway got a second wind, and Sam Bennett heroically hung on for a period as they approached the final climb to the summit finish before being dropped, then coming to a complete stop as the peloton squeezed past on a narrow bend.
Onto the final climb and Amador was immediately dispatched from the break before Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Victorious) was also dropped.
16.3km long with an average gradient of 6.3 per cent, De Plus and De Gent were the next two to fade away, with Lutsenko then attacking the break with 14.5km remaining. Neilson Powless and Gino Mäder (Bahrain-Victorious) were able to follow as David de la Cruz (UAE Team Emirates) and Kenny Elissonde (Trek-Segafredo) couldn’t follow.
Cofidis took it up on the front, looking to tee up Guillame Martin who was sitting outside the top 10 on GC.
Teuns rode himself back up to the front as the gap came down to 40 seconds, Roglič still with team-mates in the peloton, surrounded by second-place Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Astana riding for Aleksandr Vlasov.
Mäder then attacked with 12km to go, Teuns dropped once more as the others responded, Lutsenko then dispensed with too.
Birthday boy Simon Geschke (Cofidis) then attacked the peloton with 30 riders remaining in the bunch, Elissonde challenging Mäder and Powless up ahead as they ducked under 10km to go.
2km later and Mäder attacked again, Powless the only man left for company as the gap back to the bunch was down to around 45 seconds.
Pierre Latour (Total Direct Energie) and Fabio Aru (Qhubeka-Assos) fell out the back of the peloton as the race approached boiling point, David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) then also dropped as Geschke was brought back in by Jumbo-Visma’s George Bennett.
Mäder finally shook off Powless with 5km to the line, going off in search of victory, as Astana took it up on the front of the GC group. The Swiss rider had more than half a minute with 3.5km remaining, his chances of a much-needed victory for Bahrain-Victorious looking good.
Steven Kruijswijk then took it up as Bennett dropped, injecting fresh pace and shelling the GC group. Mäder’s lead was under half a minute with 2km to go, before Kruijswijk pulled off and Roglič was left to lead proceedings.
Schachmann then kicked, followed by Vlasov and taking Roglič, Hamilton and Benoot with him.
Under the flamme rouge and Mäder had 18 seconds, but then Roglič surged. Schachmann desperately chased back on to the Slovenian’s wheel, and a pause left Mäder dangling with a gap of five seconds, that may have been enough.
It would have been, but his fate was in the legs of the insatiable Roglič, who accelerated once more to pip him on the line, taking a third win in the race and further cementing his GC lead.
Paris-Nice 2021, stage seven: Le Broc to Valdeblore La Colmiane (119.2km)
1. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, in 3-09-18
2. Gino Mäder (Sui) Bahrain-Victorious, at two seconds
3. Max Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 5s
4. Lucas Hamilton (Aus) BikeExchange, at 8s
5. Aleksandr Vlasov (Rus) Astana – Premier Tech, at 10s
6. Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Team DSM, at same time
7. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis, at 15s
8. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Astana – Premier Tech, at same time
9. Harm Vanhoucke (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, at 22s
10. Jai Hindley (Aus) Team DSM, at 27s
General classification after stage seven
1. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, in 26-32-01
2. Max Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 52 seconds
3. Aleksandr Vlasov (Rus) Astana – Premier Tech, at 1-11
4. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Astana – Premier Tech, at 1-15
5. Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Team DSM, at 1-34
6. Lucas Hamilton (Aus) BikeExchange, at same time
7. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis, at 2-06
8. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Jumbo-Visma, at 2-07
9. Jack Haig (Aus) Bahrain-Victorious, at 2-10
10. Matteo Jorgenson (USA) Movistar, at 2-21