Primož Roglič was untouchable on his way to stage victory on stage four of Paris-Nice 2021, taking the overall lead in the process.
The Jumbo-Visma rider waited until just 3km remained of the final climb to Chiroubles to launch his enormous attack, taking bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint and powering to the line alone.
Despite a commendable effort from Michael Matthews (BikeExchange) to chase down Roglič, it was the Slovenian who dominated the stage and takes over the leader’s yellow jersey from Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-Nippo).
How it happened
The fourth stage of Paris-Nice 2021 from Chalon-sur-Saône to Chiroubles was the first opportunity for the climbers to take back time after the short individual time trial on stage three.
Raced over 187.6km in eastern France, stage four was a relentless day of climbing with seven categorised climbs spread throughout the course.
The ascending started 25km into the stage, with a quick succession of second category and uncategorised climbs leading into the middle section.
After an easier stretch around the 100km mark, the peloton then faced a tough series of ascents in the final 50k – first Mont Brouilly followed by Cold de Durbize, and then another ascent of Mont Brouilly at the 160km mark, before riders faced the final climb to the line.
The last ascent of the day took in the Col de Durbize once again, but then went further to the finish in Chiroubles after a 7.4km-long, 5.9 per cent average gradient.
As racing got underway, the breakaway formed early in the day with six riders breaking clear of the peloton for a day out in front.
That group, which included Oliver Naesen (Ag2r-Citroën) and Julien Bernard (Trek-Segafredo), was able to extend its advantage out to more than five minutes in the first 40km of the stage, before the peloton began to reel them in.
Jumbo-Visma did much of the pulling in the peloton for their leader Roglič, who started the day just six seconds down on general classification.
After an attritional day of climbing, the race then began to explode on the final ascent of Mont Brouilly, as it was just Bernard left from the break with a modest gap back to the peloton.
As the GC teams began to show their intent, the non-climbers started to lose contact with the race, as race leader Bissegger slipped out of the front group, handing the race lead over in the process.
On the descent from Brouilly, Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) went down on a fast right-hand turn, as his tyres lost grip.
Despite quickly re-mounting, Geoghegan Hart was forced to sit up from the peloton shortly after as he appeared to be suffering from an injury.
He was then confirmed to have abandoned the race shortly after.
With 15km left to race, Rémi Cavagna (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) launched a huge attack from the peloton and set off in pursuit of Bernard, who still had a minute advantage over the chasers.
Luis León Sánchez (Astana-Premier Tech) joined Cavagna in the pursuit and with 10km left to race they had made it half-way across to Bernard, as the final climb loomed.
As the lead riders hit the final climb with 7km to the line, Bernard was still solo with Sánchez and Cavagna close behind, while the peloton was still a minute further down the road.
But disaster struck for Cavagna, as he suffered a mechanical his gears and couldn’t get into a climbing gear, causing him to lose contact with Sánchez and spoiling his hopes of victory.
Sánchez finally made contact with Bernard with just under 6km to race, but the peloton had ramped up the pace under the control of Jumbo-Visma, causing the gap to quickly tumble to under 30 seconds.
After a huge ride, Bernard was eventually dropped by Sánchez with just under 4km to the line as the remains of the peloton gradually closed down the gap to around 20 seconds, prompting the first speculative attacks from the bunch.
With 3km to the line Roglič then launched his decisive move and powered clear of the peloton, picking up a handful of bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint and then pressing on with his attack.
Despite some half-hearted response from rivals in the peloton, Roglič made it to the line to take the stage win and the overall victory, 12 seconds ahead of Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) in second and Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) in third.
Roglič now leads the general classification by 35 seconds over Schachmann, as Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) moves up into third place at 37 seconds
Paris-Nice 2021, stage four: Chalon-sur-Saone to Chiroubles (187.6km)
1. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma
2. Max Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hangrohe, at 12s
3. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis
4. Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Team DSM
5. Aleksandr Vlasov (Rus) Astana-Premier Tech
6. Lucas Hamilton (Aus) Team BikeExchange, all at same time
7. David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 16s
8. Quentin Pacher (Fra) B&B Hotels p/b KTM
9. Pierre Latour (Fra) Team Total Direct Energie
10. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Astana-Premier Tech, all at same time
General classification after stage four
1. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, in 13-26-40
2. Max Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 35s
3. Brandon McNulty (USA) UAE Team Emirates, at 37s
4. Aleksandr Vlasov (Rus) Astana-Premier Tech, at 41s
5. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Astana-Premier Tech, at 43s
6. Matteo Jorgenson (USA) Movistar, at 58s
7. Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Team DSM, at 1-05
8. Lucas Hamilton (Aus) Team BikeExchange, at 1-09
9. Luis León Sánchez (Esp) Astana-Premier Tech, at 1-11
10. Pierre Latour (Fra) Team Total Direct Energie, at 1-12