Aggressive Jumbo-Visma take every oppertunity to pile on pressure
As well as Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) rode en route to overall victory, this Paris-Nice title belongs as much to his team as a whole as it does to him.
They laid the hammer down right from the first stage, where they took everyone by surprise when Roglič went clear with Christophe Laporte, Wout van Aert on a short climb towards the end of what had been widely predicted to be a sprint stage. Laporte was chosen to win the stage, a fine reward for a move he instigated, and a sponsor’s dream of a finish as all three celebrated together over the line.
After putting some more GC riders out of contention in the crosswinds during stage two, the team then remarkably achieved another podium clean sweep in the time trial, with Van Aert taking victory this time ahead of Roglič in second and Rohan Dennis in third. Not a mountain had been ridden yet, and Roglič was already over a minute ahead of almost all his GC rivals.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, and Roglič was left without much support in the mountain stages. But they were there when Roglič needed them, with Van Aert producing one of his best climbing performances yet on the final stage to help rescue Roglič’s overall lead from a dangerous Simon Yates attack.
That means that Jumbo-Visma had held the overall lead from start to finish, with Laporte taking it on the first stage, handing it to Van Aert after the time trial, and Roglič taking over in the mountains
If Jumbo-Visma are to have any chance of defeating Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) at this year’s Tour de France, they’ll need to ride well and cleverly as a team. This aggressive display, where no kind of terrain was off-limits, might be an early sign of how they plan to attack Pogačar come July.
Roglič exorcises old demons to hang on the victory
A thought must have crossed Roglič’s mind when he found he couldn’t follow an attack from Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) up the Col d’Eze during the final stage: not again.
The Slovenian has a painful record in French races in recent years, losing the overall lead at the final hurdle of last year’s Paris-Nice and, most famously, the 2020 Tour de France, and also crashing out altogether from the 2021 Tour de France and 2020 Critérium du Dauphiné.
As Yates flew up the Col d’Eze it looked as though the same thing might be happening again.
Prior to that climb, Roglič had been under virtually no pressure. He brought a lead of 40 seconds over Yates into stage seven’s key mountain top finish at Col de Turini, and comfortably followed all the attacks on that climb before taking the stage victory.
His losing the lead on the final stage would therefore have been a big upset, and potentially reawaken the dormant narratives that he is vulnerable to late collapses in stage races. For the sake of his invincible aura, as well as his confidence, it was essential that he dug deep and rescue the race.
Thankfully, with some brilliant assistance from Wout van Aert, he was able to do so, and claim what was not only his first-ever Paris-Nice title, but also his first-ever French stage race at World Tour level. Being dropped like that will certainly be a concern — after all, his compatriot and rival Tadej Pogačar has certainly shown no such weakness lately — but it feels very significant that he was able to overcome the fright this time.
Resilient Yates and Martínez impress
Despite Jumbo-Visma’s intimidating dominance during the opening stages, Simon Yates (BikeExchange), his brother Adam Yates, and his Ineos Grenadiers team-mate Dani Martínez all impressed with their refusal to throw in the towel.
The Ineos Grenadiers duo were the first to take the fight to Roglic, with both attacking in tandem on the Col de Turini. Martinez then boldly went from long-range the following day with an attack 50km from the finish, and, having forced a selection, was very unfortunate to puncture ahead of what would surely have been more attacks on the Col d’Eze. Still, third is one of the best results of the Colombian’s career, and evidence that he’s ready to move up the hierarchy at Ineos Grenadiers.
Martínez’s threat might have faded, but Simon Yates was still up for a fight. Yates had already looked on great form, having produced one of the time trials of his life to finish fifth on stage four, and also had great climbing legs as he dropped Roglič, Van Aert and an on-form Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) on the Col d’Eze. It might not ultimately have been enough to win the overall title, but did seal a stage win and second overall, a great sign ahead of the Giro d’Italia.
Had Martínez not punctured earlier, and had he the legs to go with Simon Yates on the Col d’Eze, who knows what might have happened? Their attitude was a testament to the virtue of resilience, and with better luck might have resulted with one of them taking overall victory.
Sprinters make final preparations for Milan-San Remo
Between Jumbo-Visma’s surprise ambush on stage one, the crosswinds that ripped the race to shreds on stage two, and the hilly terrain of stages three and six, there wasn’t a single straightforward stage for the sprinters this week at Paris-Nice — something that might have denied them glory in the short term, but could pay off handsomely next weekend at Milan-San Remo.
In terms of pure sprinting speed, Fabio Jakobsen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) was once again the standout rider. Despite losing out on the ideal position to Wout van Aert following a superb lead-out from Christophe Laporte, and despite not having Michael Mørkøv to assist him, Jakobsen was still able to storm to victory on stage two. But in terms of his Milan-San Remo — a race he has said that he hopes to try and win this year — he’ll be more concerned, having been dropped on the climbs in each of the other stages.
Even though he didn’t win the stage, Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) might be more encouraged ahead of Milan-San Remo given how he was able to stay in the peloton on both stages one and three, although his withdrawal on stage six may hamper his preparations.
The way Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) stormed to victory on stage two and won the sprint behind surprise stage six winner Mathieu Burgaudeau (TotalEnergies) would have made him a major Milan-San Remo favourite, but he’s not planning on riding. Nevertheless, he’ll be one to watch during the cobbled Classics this sprint.
Bryan Coquard (Cofidis) continued his resurgent start to the season with fifth on stage six and second behind Pedersen on stage three, while three solid top six finished for Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) reinforce his status as an outside bet for what will be a debut Milan-San Remo.
But the overwhelming favourite for La Primavera remains points classification winner Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), who looks as good as ever a week away from the race. Remarkably, he finished on the podium in all of the first four stages, and any concerns that he might be suffering from injuries sustained on a stage two crash were comprehensively put to rest with his extraordinary ride on the final stage.
Flu spreads through the peloton
It was absolute carnage at Paris-Nice this year. Only 59 of the 154 starters managed to make it to the finish, the fewest of any edition since 1985.
The chief culprit was a flu that swept the peloton during the race.
These illnesses could be of significant concern for riders who had hoped to use Paris-Nice as preparation ahead of the spring Classics. Cobbled specialist Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) was one of many to fall ill, while the wave of form Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates) had been riding following victory at Le Samyn was brought to a halt when concussion forced him to leave too.
Something was also clearly wrong with Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious) when he was dropped on the opening stage, and abandoned overnight.
Of the GC hopefuls, Ben O’Conor’s (Ag2r Citroën) promising start came to nothing when he was struck by the flu. And many others were off-color even before the wave of illnesses. Defending champion Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) didn’t look right from the start and went home before the time trial, while a similarly forlorn David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) survived a few extra days before doing the same.
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