The stage 3 time trial at Paris-Nice was always going to shape the overall complexion of the race, but it was also set to shape the complexion of the very discipline.
The TTT was the next target of organiser ASO’s continued weariness with modern cycling and an all-new format, where times would be taken from the first rider rather than the fourth or fifth, was supposed to breathe new life into the event.
In the end, it struck middle ground. This was not another inconsequential gimmick like the infamous Tour de France grid start a few years ago, but neither was it anything that felt truly revolutionary.
The only real hiccup was a stray Israel-Premier Tech rider getting in the way of Bahrain Victorious in the home straight, but that arguably owed more to the police strikes that closed the spacing between teams from five minutes to three minutes. On the positive side, we saw Tadej Pogačar sprinting at warp speed through the final bends on his time trial bike.
It was a striking new visual element but there was also a tactical aspect. The largely flat course design may have meant that squads stayed together and, up until the final kilometre, rode similarly to how they would have done before. However, the dash in the final kilometre made for more of an individual emphasis, in a discipline that’s obviously about the collective.
Pogačar was able to launch a fearsome sprint and complete the fastest final 400 metres of anyone perhaps bar Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost). He didn’t have to worry about dragging anyone along – as he had to earlier in the race when he shot through a bend and dislodged Felix Großschartner for several frantic seconds – and the end result was that he was able to single-handedly redress a small portion of the imbalance against the collective might of Jumbo-Visma’s squad.
In that respect, it was also striking to see that Vingegaard was not even Jumbo-Visma’s first rider over the line and that he was part of a finishing trio. Nathan van Hooydonck had collected bonus seconds the previous day and was in with a shout of the yellow jersey. It remains to be seen whether that was the stated aim, and whether they could have delivered Vingegaard any quicker had they burned the big Dutchman sooner.
Like UAE Team Emirates, EF Education-EasyPost launched Cort solo in the final kilometre, giving the team a nail-biting shot at stage victory but also allowing the Dane to reach out and grab the yellow jersey, which would not have happened under the former format.
Likewise, you wonder whether David Gaudu and Groupama-FDJ would have fared so well, here finishing just 14 seconds down on Jumbo-Visma. With fewer riders needed at the finish, teams could fully burn through their bigger rouleurs, thus protecting climbers for longer. Simon Yates was another example, commenting that he was doing much shorter turns than his teammates, and finishing ahead of sprinter Michael Matthews.
In short, the new format added an interesting tactical element that didn’t rip up the entire script. The consensus is that adding a climb at the end of the course would do just that, introducing even more of an individual element, but for now you sense ASO will be pleased enough with evolution rather than revolution.
The overall complexion
In the overall standings, Cort is in yellow but Vingegaard is the virtual leader of the race, going by the order of true overall contenders.
Having started the day with a deficit of 12 seconds to a bonus-hunting Pogačar, he put 23 seconds into his Tour de France rival to lead him by 11 seconds ahead of the hills.
In between them, four seconds behind Vingegaard, is Simon Yates, whose Jayco-AlUla team put in a storming ride for third place. Like Jumbo-Visma, they took an extra rider to the line in search of yellow in the form of Michael Matthews but there will be no regrets from the Australian team with Yates having kept pace with the ‘big two’ and stolen a march on many others.
Next up was Neilson Powless, who was second across the line for EF Education-EasyPost. He finished five seconds after his teammate Cort and there’ll be no sleep lost over the couple of seconds he might have saved in the slipstream as he sits third of the GC riders at five seconds from Vingegaard. Jumbo-Visma’s Tobias Foss is on the same time but he’ll be used in service of Vingegaard from now on, leaving Pogačar as the next best at 11 seconds.
Then comes David Gaudu, who will be licking his lips after a near-perfect ride from FDJ in which he was delivered to the line by time trial specialist Stefan Kung. The French climber sits 14 seconds back on Vingegaard, while Bora-Hansgrohe produced a strong ride to put two-time Paris-Nice champion Max Schachmann at 25 seconds.
After that, we head into the territory of disappointment. Mattias Skjelmose (Trek-Segafredo) was led out by yellow jersey Mads Pedersen but finds himself 45 seconds down on Vingegaard, while Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious) is a further two seconds down.
It was a particularly disappointing day for Ineos Grenadiers, who are usually heavyweights in the discipline. They delivered their two leaders, Dani Martinez and Pavel Sivakov, to the line alongside Jhonatan Narvaez but they’re both 48 seconds down on Vingegaard. Romain Bardet’s DSM team finished on exactly the same time.
Tour of Oman champion Matteo Jorgenson finds himself 50 seconds down, while most of the home teams find themselves with an uphill task, Cofidis’ Ion Izaguirre at 1:05, TotalEnergies’ Pierre Latour at 1:06, Arkéa-Samsic’s Kevin Vaquelin at 1:25 and AG2R Citroën’s Aurélien Paret-Peintre at 1:27.
At this point, Martínez – the recent Volta ao Algarve winner – looks like rider most likely to make up for lost time, and it’ll be interesting to see how Ineos Grenadiers play things, with two cards but both lagging behind.
Otherwise, it’s tight at the top, the TTT leaving Vingegaard and Pogačar on close terms. The likes of Yates and Gaudu will be buoyed and will sniff a podium finish, but the battle between the past two Tour de France champions is still the defining narrative of this race.