The winning moment? It’s tempting to say when Pogačar made the belated announcement he was going to start the race. However it wasn’t so simple. Jumbo-Visma brought a strong team, Jonas Vingegaard had been winning plenty and the race started with the promise of a duel, a revenge match even. Only the contest would prove one-sided and Stage 4’s summit finish at the Camp des Loges saw Pogačar win ahead of David Gaudu while Jonas Vingegaard was further back, a hierarchy that would only become further entrenched.
Things got off to a lively start with Pogačar attacking twice in the finale of the opening stage, his appetite for time bonuses meant even the six second offering close to the finish, a petit four of a time bonus, tempted him.
Many saw Jonas Vingegaard as the likely winner because his Jumbo-Visma team would ace the team time trial, put him in yellow with a good cushion of time and then he could defend. Yet come Tuesday’s TTT stage, the Dutch team duly won but only took 23 seconds on fifth-placed UAE Emirates. Symbolically Tadej Pogačar finished alone while Jumbo could have finished with the regulation four riders together. Yet by this point Pogačar had taken 12 seconds in time bonuses from the first two stages so Vingegaard was only 11 seconds up on the overall classification, no cushion. This was a relative win for Pogačar who kept his rival in range, plus Jumbo-Visma’s win came with its own opportunity cost, having selected heavier riders for this stage it meant fewer climbers to help in the mountains to come.
The rule change whereby teams started together but were given their own time when they crossed the line gave us plenty to talk about on a Tuesday and probably beyond as it’s likely to feature more often. Visually it lets spectators see the tactics at work far more than any long turns from strong riders, it’s possibly more egalitarian as a team able to afford seven or eight millionaires who can time trial and offer mountain support isn’t advantaged as much any more compared to a squad that has fewer of these valuable “Swiss army knives”; the team’s performance is marginally more dependent on its strongest rider rather than its fourth best.
If those 11 seconds looked insufficient for Vingegaard, it proved so at the Loge des Gardes summit finish. Surprisingly Vingegaard attacked one third of the way up the climb. Pogačar responded and the two seemed to be on a different level but they marked each other and the others were able to ride back. This allowed David Gaudu to counter. When Pogačar had to go again to fetch Gaudu – who was riding high on GC thanks his team’s solid fourth place in the team time trial – Vingegaard started to flounder once the road kicked up in the final kilometre and he’d finish the day 44 seconds down on GC.
Friday’s stage was cancelled by Storm Larisa, it wasn’t just risky to race in, the roads were blocked in places. A bike race might feel terribly important but local government officials deploying crews to reopen roads probably have other priorities.
Saturday’s summit finish stage to the Col de la Couillole revealed the precise hierarchy of the race with Pogačar winning, Gaudu able to follow him while Vingegaard was better than the rest but having to react to what Pogačar did. Tobias Foss did a huge amount of work, did this keep a lid on the attacks so that his leader wasn’t destabilised or did it suit Pogačar and Gaudu even more? Either way the stage prised open the time gaps further.
Sunday’s final stage has often seen the race turned upside down and when this hasn’t happened, it almost did. Only this time there was Hitchcock drama, it was a much more stable stage. Pogačar and his entourage were saying that because he lives in Monaco he really wanted to win on his nearby training roads in Nice, presumably his backers should be thinking of buying him holiday homes in, say, Oudenaarde and Courchevel as well. For once there no attacks on the climb to Peille because Tim Wellens, once the eternal attacker, is now a tow truck for UAE. The total lack of peripeteia was so evident that we had the four leading riders overall in the same respective positions on the Chemin Du Vinaigrier. At the finish the only position in the top-10 that changed was Jack Haig finishing tenth and while that’s solid for him, it was because Pierre Latour’s slipped to 14th place after losing ground mid-stage because of his persistent descending problems.
There was more than the overall classification. Jonas Gregaard did a great job to take the mountains jersey, attacking and taking points on every day he could except Satuday’s Stage 7. The sprints saw a mix, Tim Merlier won the opening stage to add some kindling to the heated topic of which sprinter Quickstep will take to the Tour de France; Mads Pedersen won the next day and his form is impressive ahead of the classics. Olav Kooij landed his biggest win so far and if Jumbo-Visma lost out on GC they’ll find plenty of satisfaction in his win and the team time trial, they lost to Pogačar but came out well ahead of most other teams.
We got the duel between Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard. Only if you scored each stage, Pogačar got the advantage on six of them, it probably would have been seven if the weather hadn’t cancelled one of the stages. We should mention the weather because the wind was all wrong, it didn’t blow enough to turn the sprints stages into spring classics; and when it did blow we got a see breeze, as in you could see trees being bent backwards like wooden limbo dancers. Paris-Nice is often one of the best races of the season, a regular highlight of the year and the weather is a factor behind the action, Mother Nature didn’t help.
The other factor is the finely balanced racing and this time there was no surprise, Pogačar’s strong performance in the team time trial and the first summit finish set the tone and he was voracious, extending his lead before taking a solo win in the yellow jersey. If this is his relaxed start to the season where he’s yet to go to altitude for training then he’s winning the mind games as well as the trophies.
For Vingegaard, it’s not the first time he’s finished second a week-long stage race in March to Tadej Pogačar given that’s exactly what happened last year’s Tirreno-Adriatico. The difference then is that he was Roglič’s understudy and today he’s the Tour champ. All the same, extrapolating his form from March to July is perilous. The challenge for Vingegaard, and everyone else, is Pogačar’s sprint, he can do it on the flat for time bonuses and when he goes at the top of a mountain pass he can not only win the stage, take the time bonus but also open up a gap of a few seconds. The lesson so far is UAE are looking stronger and more cohesive, and here they didn’t bring their Tour team for a dress rehearsal either.
David Gaudu provided the plot twist in the week, almost matching Pogačar in the two big summit finishes and even out-sprinting him for one of the intermediate time bonuses although he never looked likely to overturn the race. He’s 40-1 to 20-1 with the bookmakers for the Tour de France but that only implies the market thinks you’d have to run this summer’s Tour de France 20 times for him to win. He was fourth last July, but 13 minutes down. This week he showed more consistency – he’s been DNF in Paris-Nice twice before – but there were only two summit finishes and when Pogačar jumped on Sunday, Gaudu said he didn’t have the legs to follow but he’s much closer now. Arnaud Démare is still riding the Tour de France but Gaudu’s request for support will be ever-more tempting.
Finally this might be one of the last editions of Paris-Nice that runs at the same time as Tirreno-Adriatico with calendar reform looming for 2026, something that would change the feel of both races. The Italian race was born in part because Italians wanted a stage race as preparation ahead of Milan-Sanremo, something the French enjoyed with Paris-Nice. So while we wonder about what happens between now and July, Sanremo is much closer, literally 50km along the coast from Nice. Many eyes are rightly on Pogačar and Vingegaard but quietly the likes of Arnaud De Lie, Mads Pedersen, Søren Kragh Andersen, Fred Wright, Nils Politt and more have been putting the finishing touch on their preparation for Sanremo and beyond, just as Wout van Aert, Julian Alaphilippe, Jasper Philpsen and others have been doing in Italy. And of course Pogačar.