Paris-Nice starts this Sunday and this year’s Race to the Sun has attracted two stars in Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard. The pair duelled in the Tour de France last summer, now we’ll get to see if they can do it on a wet Wednesday in the Auvergne. Easier said than done in a high stress race with trapdoors in the opening days, a team time trial with a twist, and some rivals who will pounce if the two mark each other.
A quick look at the route first so we know what to expect in the coming days. Stage 1 this Sunday is hilly circuits west of Paris, the GC contenders will have to watch out in case the bunch splits and for crashes in hectic moments. Stage 2 is either a procession to a bunch sprint or a manic Monday in the crosswinds, we’ll see which way the wind blows.
Stage 3 is a flat team time trial on a triangular-shaped 32km course just by the Loire river that is exposed to the wind. The novelty here is riders get the time they cross the line with, when normally a team’s time depends on the fourth or fifth rider. No longer is a team only as quick as its fifth rider. Teams can burn through riders like booster rockets as they approach the finish. Whatever the rule tweaks and tactics, this stage rewards big teams with hulking helpers and aero analysts.
Stage 4 is a ski station summit finish, of sorts. It’s not alpine but auvergnat in central France although the long-range forecast suggests it could actually snow. After a succession of ascents on lumpy roads to add to the climbing, the final climb is on an awkward road with 6km at 7%. Stage 5 is a likely sprint stage but watch out for the mistral wind. Stage 6 is a tough day out with several “wall” climbs, normally a breakaway day but the GC contenders can exploit the terrain.
Stage 7 is the big summit finish stage on the Col de la Couillole but it’s a steady climb that’s ridden fast and being on a good wheel makes all the difference. Stage 8 is the now classic dash around the hills behind Nice where the sharp climbs and twisting descents make for a frantic finale, many times in recent years the overall classification has been up in the air in the final moments of this stage.
There are time bonuses with 6-4-2 seconds for each day’s intermediate sprint and 10-6-4 seconds at the finish line.
It’s hard to see past Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard, harder still to pick between them. Neither has won this race, both would like to. And yet they don’t have to win so if they mark each other someone else can ride away with the spoils.
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates) looks like he can do it all, he’s won small bunch sprints and solo summit finishes alike and more, he seems to be setting the weather for sport. This season his form has seen him winning against big names in Andalucia. However he’s not coming to the race with his Tour de France team, and he could be on the back foot after the Stage 3 team time trial. If so he’ll have to go on attack later in the week and try to find a way to unpick the Jumbo-Visma padlocks.
Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) got the better of Pogačar last July thanks to a strong team and he can hope for more of this and his team has mastered Paris-Nice in recent years. Vingegaard might not pack the same sprint as Pogačar but his team looks stronger on paper for the team time trial so he doesn’t have to quibble over time bonuses. However this collective strength for the flat opening phase of the race – including bringing house sprinter Olav Kooij – comes with risks later on, Tobias Foss and Rohan Dennis can be versatile but only so far in the mountains where Vingegaard risks being isolated.
Dani Martinez (Ineos) has just won the Volta ao Algarve and was third in Nice last year. The team time trial suits his team. He misses the zip to match Pogačar and Vingegaard but if he doesn’t follow their initial attacks he’s excellent at pacing his way back but this rather implies he could be third again, it’s hard to see how he rides off with the yellow jersey. One way is to gamble and Pavel Sivakov is a second card to play and we’ll see how Ineos race, will they take risks, or try to assure a podium by steady riding?
It’s great to have Pogačar and Vingegaard here but one of the attractions of Paris-Nice over the years has been how finely balanced the racing was. Simon Yates (Jayco-Al Ula) has been an expert here, surprisingly good in the time trials, at ease on the climbs and willing to roll the dice at times too. Toppling one big name is a big ask, two is a lot and the form is unknown. Lucas Hamilton and Matteo Sobrero could have their moments too and offer good support.
Max Schachmann (Bora-hansgrohe) had a 2022 to forget and but will have fond memories of this race having won here in 2020 and 2021, only each time it felt like he was at the limit of his possibilities on the long climbs; this year’s course with the extra summit finish in the Auvergne won’t help either. Bob Jungels should be worth watching as well.
David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) is in great shape having been on the podium last weekend in the Boucles Drôme-Ardèche but surely he’d sign today for a third place finish in Nice? He’s got to master the opening stages to avoid splits and if his team has big engines for the time trial, he surely won’t be leading after Stage 3 so how to attack and win outright? Plus he’ll want his legs do the twitching rather than being asked all week about that Discord with Arnaud Démare.
Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar) won the Tour of Oman and will want to improve on last year’s debut here where he finished 8th. Mattias Skjelmose (Trek-Segafredo) is one to watch, frankly he’s unlikely to win but he’s a rider on the up and worth watching for clues about the future. Romain Bardet (DSM) is coming into form and his team might like a high GC finish for the points it brings but does he ride steady or instead look for a stage win? Bahrain bring Gino Mäder and Jack Haig, both have made the top-10 before, the latter three times over. Ion Izagirre (Cofidis) is a regular in the top-10 and comes with a decent team but historically they’ve bombed in team time trials so he’s likely to have things even harder here. Neilson Powless (EF Education) has been one of the in-form riders this year but how to take time in the mountains?
TV: coverage on France3 for locals from 3.10pm to 5.00pm CET each day, mirrored on Eurosport/GCN in many countries, it should be on the same channel you watch the Tour de France on. There will be daily previews here which will list more precise times.