Even on an opening stage that ended in a bunch kick, Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Team Emirates) did not waste an opportunity to nab a few of seconds on his GC rivals at Paris-Nice on Sunday.
While none of the day's attackers were able to make any moves stick through to the finish, where Soudal-QuickStep's Tim Merlier took a sprint victory, Pogačar was one of a handful of overall hopefuls whose moves animated the rolling climbs to the southwest of Paris.
The two-time Tour de France winner did not walk empty handed either, picking up six bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint atop the day's final climb.
Despite his recent dominance in Spain at the Clásica Jaén Paraíso Interior and the Ruta del Sol, Pogačar apparently had to work his way into form over the course of the day. As Wielerflits reports, Pogačar said that at the start he was "feeling a bit s—." Fortunately for the Slovenian, things started to improve with "every hour," something he would like to see continue over the course of the race.
Apparently, he was feeling strong enough by the final 20 kilometres of stage 1 to show himself near the front of the pack, as he responded ably to a surge by Neilson Powless when the racing started to heat up and splits formed near the Côte de Milon-la-Chapelle. Things came back together, then Powless went solo for a while, and then the pack regrouped – only for Pogačar to make his own attack on the Côte de Dis-sept Tournants.
With a sprint point at the top of the short climb, six seconds were on offer to the first rider and up and over the ascent. Pogačar seized on the opportunity to make gains on his rivals, holding an advantage through the intermediate sprint line as Pierre Latour (TotalEnergies) and Dorian Godon (Ag2r Citroën) mopped up the remainder of the seconds.
Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), presumably Pogačar's main concern on the day, missed out on the bonus seconds, crossing the sprint just behind Godon. The move wasn't quite over on the climb, however, with Pogačar, Latour, and Vingegaard linking up to form a three-rider lead group, if only for a short while.
As it turned out, Vingegaard was only interested in covering the move rather than contributing to any attempt to stay clear of the pack.
"There were only two riders who wanted to ride, so that was not enough. There was also a headwind.”
“I saw that Jonas wasn't riding along, so I knew I shouldn't continue," Pogačar said. "I straightened up and decided to save some strength. Then it was clear that it was going to be a sprint and I crossed the finish line safely."
When all was said and done, Pogačar had nonetheless made small inroads in the GC contest. As of Sunday evening, he sits in third overall behind stage 1 winner and race leader Merlier. Another sprinter-friendly stage awaits on Monday before Tuesday's stage 3 team time trial will almost certainly see further developments in the overall battle.
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