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Paris-Nice Stage 5 Preview

A stage for the sprinters, the last chance for them before three days in the hills and mountains.

Tasting notes: a breakaway containing Anthony Perez who took the mountains jersey, a small revenge as in the last Tour de France he was due to collect the jersey too after scoring points but crashed and had to abandon the race before he could get the day’s reward. Fellow escapee Julien Bernard, almost a local, lasted the longest from the breakaway but several teams were interested in the stage win and joined Jumbo-Visma in the chase. Descending Mont Brouilly for the second time Tao Geoghegan Hart and David Gaudu crashed, the Londoner abandoning the race while Gaudu made it back thanks to Bruno Armirail’s efforts. After some skirmishes on the lower slopes, Primož Roglič was the best of the bunch with a long finish, attacking with 3km to go to rustle the final intermediate sprint and staying away for the stage win. Roglič was only 12 seconds ahead of the chasers at the line but with time bonuses added on, he gained 25 seconds and now has 35 seconds lead on Max Schachmann. Game over for the GC? He’s climbing faster and has the strongest team so we’re now at the “anything can happen” stage, journalese for only a surprise or shock can change things. His rivals might start looking at each other thinking of the podium.

The Route: 200km south down the Rhone valley – with views of Mont Ventoux later – to Bollène, last host to a stage of Paris-Nice in 1971 and every time the race visited before a sprinter won. The Rhone valley rhymes with wind but not today, it should be a calm one. Instead the difficulty comes with a loop at the end, it climbs a little to the last intermediate sprint with 16km to go and then there’s a right turn onto a small road for the next 8km downhill. This detour won’t terrify the sprinters, it just makes things harder for them.

The Finish: a pinch-point in an underpass with 5km go to, then a roundabout where it’s quicker on the right. The final 4km are fast, flat and on a big road. There’s a roundabout just before the flamme rouge and again it’s quicker to take on the right side.

The Contenders: no easy pick today, several sprinters look promising but there’s no hierarchy yet. Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quickstep) gets another go and his leadout should help him again here, he’s the safe pick. Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) has the strong train for a big finish like this and he’s often better in long, predictable finishes too but less consistent at the moment, the same for Cees Bol (DSM). Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) is still a touch short of form – bad weather at home before the UAE Tour meant he missed some training sessions – and Alexander Kristoff (UAE Emirates) could be there too.

Sam Bennett
Cees Bol, Arnaud Démare
Pedersen, Kristoff, Ackermann

Weather: getting warmer, 15°C and apparently no wind but a slight tailwind for the finish. Update: it’ll be windier with a stiff headwind at the start but will drop later on. There’s still an exposed section on after the second intermediate sprint.

TV: the finish is forecast for 4.00pm CET. It’s on France 3 for locals and VPN users, or Eurosport/GCN for most of the rest of the world and NBC Sports Gold in the US. For channel hoppers Tirreno-Adriatico is due to end 10 minutes later but zap back and forth to see which race is ahead or behind schedule.

You might ask why races clash like this? Well because TV sets the agenda and if host broadcasters France Télévisions and RAI want a 4pm finish, a 4pm finish is what they get and they only have to cater to the home market who make up the bulk of the TV audience so don’t worry what happens elsewhere.

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  • Ecky Thump Thursday, 11 March 2021, 7:59 am

    Following on from yesterday’s point about the relative lack of depth in this year’s field compared to Tirreno.
    Whilst acknowledging the courses’ differences, it could be argued that a lot of riders have chosen to dodge Roglic.
    He looks unbeatable in a one-week race; he’s up at prime Froome-levels of dominance.
    That burst 3km from the finish was typical Froome-like also.
    Obviously he needs to translate that to the Tour but he looks in fabulous shape.

    • J Evans Thursday, 11 March 2021, 10:19 am

      I don’t think he’s anything like as strong as Froome, to use your example, was. Roglic lost time to the chasers towards the end, which really wasn’t Froome-like. And the time he gained was mostly while the others dithered about who would chase.
      He’s also nowhere near as dominant in grand tours as Froome was (which is not a complaint, as far as I’m concerned), and not as consistent, having a number of bad days and quite often fading towards the end of the three weeks.

      • Paul B Thursday, 11 March 2021, 11:55 am

        Agree Froome was more dominant in Grand Tours, but Ecky’s comments were about Rog in 1 week races where I don’t recall Froome every being that dominant, Dauphine excepted.

        Roglic looked to be in very good form yesterday, he does seem to be permanantly in good form, which has me wondering about whether this contributes to him fading in the third week of GTs.

        • J Evans Thursday, 11 March 2021, 12:40 pm

          I was responding to Ecky’s point: ‘Obviously he needs to translate that to the Tour but he looks in fabulous shape.’
          Like you, I’ve also wondered if Roglic fading at the end of GTs is down to being over-raced/peaking too soon.

    • Digahole Thursday, 11 March 2021, 11:22 am

      On that, it’s disappointing that Porte went out so early. He was the nearest to hanging on to Rog and Pog at the Tour. Would he have been in similar form and maybe tempered Roglic’s dominance? Either way, his attack looked next level dominant, but taking 12 seconds over 3km isn’t really that

      • Tovarishch Thursday, 11 March 2021, 11:54 am

        It also meant that Ineos wouldn’t be able to try out their new battle plan. It looks as if having multiple GC contenders means they will be firing people up the road to try and disrupt to JV train but that went by the wayside. At least they’ll get a chance to try it on Tirreno-Adriatico (bidons notwithstanding)

    • gabriele Thursday, 11 March 2021, 12:15 pm

      That cyclists “dodge” each others (or any of them) was already a dubious to laughable idea back in Froomey’s golden age when it was used to excuse the lack of quality in some (just some) of the TdFs final GC he brought home. But it just didn’t work, both because of sheer facts which simply proved that false, and because of a long series of “theoretical” reasons (to name one: ever seen how hard they fight for a second, fourth or even eigth place at the Tour GC, even giving up any chance to win? Ever seen a rider lining up at the TdF aiming for a top-10 despite having much more of a chance to podium or more at the Giro? Why should it matter so much that the maillot jaune is already given away before the race start? – as it often was in cycling history, by the way).
      But, frankly, thinking that the rest of the world is moving away from a early one-week stage race (which big guns, like J Evans does, barely care about) to avoid facing… Roglic… Nah.
      He’s a huge athlete, especially in short stage races, and always going for the win, which is impressive (and sort of a weak point), but he *barely* beat Adam Yates at last year’s Tirreno. And in 2018 he got the best of Bernal in Romandie by a handful of seconds, too. Unbeatable is a long shot. To name one, Alaphilippe on home roads and on this specific course might have given him a good run for his money.

      • J Evans Thursday, 11 March 2021, 12:44 pm

        I didn’t realise that my purely personal preference for one-day races and grand tours over one-week stage races made me a ‘big gun’.

  • DJW Thursday, 11 March 2021, 9:45 am

    Cavagna would probably not have won, but to have a WT stage victory chance evaporate due to a flat rear derailleur battery must have been extremely frustrating. The mechanic who didn’t check won’t be getting praise from Lefevere – or was it a product weakness? It’s not the first time, and they are supposed to provide more reliable changing, and good publicity for an high-margin product too.

    Am I the only one who can’t warm to Roglic?

    • The Inner Ring Thursday, 11 March 2021, 9:54 am

      He said he wasn’t sure what it was, it could be the battery. But could be something else, the wiring, another problem etc because the gears wouldn’t change. Di2 is great when it works but catastrophic when it doesn’t; ironically just yesterday morning Cavagna had an article in his local newspaper La Montagne saying how much he liked electronic shifting, that he couldn’t go back.

      Also Roglic is warming up a bit himself, he’s beginning to be a bit more expressive in front of the media.

      • hoh Thursday, 11 March 2021, 10:05 am

        Ouch, did Cavagna offer an update to the article!

      • J Evans Thursday, 11 March 2021, 10:13 am

        Regarding Cavagna, how many races will be lost due to electronic gears malfunctioning, or disk-brake wheels taking so long to change? We’ve seen these problems a few times already this season (the electronic gears issue has been ongoing for years).
        Maybe these things are superior in normal life – I don’t know; I don’t ride – but electronic things always seem to break more often than mechanical things, and, in racing, the length of time it takes to change a wheel is much more likely to be crucial than any extra braking performance that disks provide.

        • DJW Thursday, 11 March 2021, 10:30 am

          I imagine myself in my youthful cycling days in Cumbria. Stuck on the 11 sprocket (13 as 11 sprockets did not exist on those distant days) on the far side of Corney fell with 60 cold and windy February kms to get back home (and no mobile phone of course). My Nuovo Record might not have changed perfectly but it always got me home!

          If competent teams mechanics with top equipement have problems, how often does the Sunday cyclist suffer?

          • mark rushton Thursday, 11 March 2021, 2:06 pm

            prob not as much we think. It all seems v.reliable but then I dont use it and am still on 10 speed. In my world an 11 sprocket would never get used unles I had a 30t chainring

      • hoh Thursday, 11 March 2021, 10:14 am

        Ouch, did Cavagna offer an update to the article?

    • Watts Thursday, 11 March 2021, 10:07 am

      Roglic doesn’t say much, but I like it. I find that sometimes these guys talk too much. So/Me is a disease, I much prefer those who do the talking with the legs.
      I give him credit for changing cycling from the boring days of Sky controlling everything. When he came on the scene he could benefit more from that way of riding than they could themselves.
      And to come back from the Tour defeat like he did is to me what makes a real champion.

      • J Evans Thursday, 11 March 2021, 10:22 am

        I don’t see any difference between Sky controlling everything in the TdF and Jumbo-Visma controlling everything – it’s just as dull.

      • Richard S Thursday, 11 March 2021, 10:26 am

        To say Roglic is a relief from Sky’s boring dominance is a bit like saying it was nice to go to Morecambe this year because I was getting sick of Blackpool.

      • Tovarishch Thursday, 11 March 2021, 11:59 am

        I don’t get this business of Roglic’s heroic comeback from defeat. I can’t count the number of times I’ve just been beaten in competition, you forget about it and the next time out try even harder. It’s part of being a sportsman.

    • Samuel Thursday, 11 March 2021, 10:19 am

      I do find Roglic a bit boring, yes he is getting better at interviews and his response to disappointment last year was admirable but his style of winning is a bit too predictable for me, when he attacks its a bit of a case of ‘oh here we go off he goes again for the win’ . I liked him better as a stage hunter before he started going for GC. Some fans can be so fickle eh?

      • Davesta Thursday, 11 March 2021, 1:44 pm

        I’m very much the same. I guess dominance is often a little boring, and personally I prefer cheering for the underdogs. But the problem here is surely lack of competition rather than Roglic’s style? If there had been a couple of riders yesterday capable of following and counter-attacking, the spectacle would have been 100 times better. As it was, there was a feeling of dull inevitability as soon as Roglic went off the front…

  • David B Thursday, 11 March 2021, 10:37 am

    It was striking seeing the roadside crowds yesterday both on Brouilly and the final climb.
    Is there not a “please watch at home” instruction in place, or is it just being ignored?

    • Cees vdL Thursday, 11 March 2021, 10:44 am

      Was thinking the same when I saw that, it was noticeably crowded, especially around the intermediate sprint at 2.8k to go.

      • Anonymous Thursday, 11 March 2021, 10:52 am

        The start and finish are closed but people can watch the race from the roadside elsewhere.

    • J Evans Thursday, 11 March 2021, 11:05 am

      Yes, I thought the same thing – Belgian races are much less crowded. The authorities should deal with this, and the people should have more sense. Even if you’re outdoors, being in a crowd is a superb way of spreading the virus – who doesn’t know that now?

      • gabriele Thursday, 11 March 2021, 11:49 am

        Of course, we can be more and more cautious, and a crowd won’t be good anyway (more than anything, if you for whatever reason happen to be talking with someone within “striking distance” and with no mask).

        That said, the actual risk is probably *extremely* low.
        We’ve got now some case studies, the feminist marches in Spain on March 8th last year being one of the most notable, and according to all experts they had a marginal impact, if any, despite the fact that there was *no social distance nor any mask use at all* at the time. And they were massive, especially in Madrid were the virus was already going rampant. People yelling elbow to elbow (just google that and you’ll get a picture or two of the situation). Outdoor, that’s the point.
        Public transport has more serious an impact all the time.
        Several GT stages were hold with public lining out along the road before further prohibitions were enforced, and, at least as long as I know for Italy or Spain, no cluster was ever reported among the crowds. I’d suppose that in GT the main risks are related to indoor social life “around” the race, in closed spaces, like breakfasts and especially dinners in hotels, pubs and so on, both for teams and supporting staff.

        That said, we won’t obviously renounce to public transport, which would have a terrible impact, while at the same time, despite last year’s studies, in Spain pretty much nobody dared to put in place such a massive march last week (although only one region had explicitly forbidden it, mainly because of political reasons rather than health ones).

        It’s a lot about what we think we can do without, rather than actual risk. And I guess that we can do without roadside fans, though surely not in the middle to long term (Flanders Classics has been speaking about a further year at most).

        However, personally (it’s a very personal thing, of course) I wouldn’t worry that much about these situations nor label people as lacking common sense, sense of responsibility or whatever. The crowds seen weren’t ever as thick as to make air stagnant, and unmasked contacts these days are probably minimal (but perhaps that’s my experience under Spanish law, I really don’t know how that works elsewhere): that means that the risk of spreading covid is not significant. Yeah, yeah, it’s ok to limit these situation (marginal gains?), but I suspect that’s more about feeling we’re doing something to tackle the problem rather than actually tackling it (forbidden hugs being another laughable issue).

        • Ecky Thump Thursday, 11 March 2021, 12:06 pm

          Don’t think that the virus is going anywhere.
          Whether the population is vaccinated or not, it will still be present and there will be continued outbreaks. Just that people should not get seriously ill in larger numbers. Vulnerable persons will remain a concern.
          How different countries handle this, and how, in turn, the race organisers can also is very unclear at present.
          England’s virus roadmap is supposed to see all limits lifted by late June 2021.
          No comment further on that.

          • J Evans Thursday, 11 March 2021, 12:09 pm

            Vaccinations (and only vaccinations, Boris Johnson) can lead to herd immunity. If enough people get them, the virus is unable to spread – e.g. measles.
            That may or may not be possible with this virus – it might well be more akin to influenza whereby one needs updated vaccines on a reasonably regular basis.

        • J Evans Thursday, 11 March 2021, 12:06 pm

          There is no necessity to attend a cycle race.
          The march you mention – March 8 2020 – levels of the virus were much lower then.
          There were a lot of maskless spectators yesterday.
          But my main point is the first one: there is simply no need for these people to be there. Have some solidarity with your fellow humans and consider them.
          There is a reason East Asian countries have a fraction of the cases and deaths that countries in the West do: it is the East Asian culture of consideration for others.

          • Ecky Thump Thursday, 11 March 2021, 12:43 pm

            Interesting that you mentioned measles as a comparison JE.
            Doing a search, it took between 30 – 50 years to declare measles eliminated from countries with mass vaccination programmes and yet, even now, outbreaks can still occur.
            COVID-19 has demonstrated an ability to mutate quickly and dangerously and this has to be a huge concern looking forward too.
            Its ability to spread outdoors is much reduced but is still a factor. Think of masses of screaming and shouting people spewing vapour everywhere, a massed peloton in close proximity with athletes breathing in deeply. And think of how easily illness can spread through the peloton. Not good.

          • gabriele Thursday, 11 March 2021, 12:45 pm

            No, the levels weren’t low at all. Quite the contrary.
            It probably was circulating more than ever, even comparing with later periods (especially in Madrid), but was just going undetected.
            You can see that checking the death toll – the more stable available figure, albeit underestimated in Spain’s case – 15 to 20 days later, when at least 700 to 900 persons were lost every day (which was Spain’s peak in absolute terms – and the first wave was concentrated in Madrid).

            As I already said, I agree with your point about the quite relative necessity to attend cycling races.

            Yet, failed risk assessment is a huge part of this problem. Being it an epidemiological question, it’s essential to focus on what has got the most significant impact: for example, because people tend to comply with a finite number of norms. And also because some apparently good sense decision (“it limits risks, and it doesn’t harm, what’s wrong with it?”) can backfire in spectacular ways.
            People just don’t stop existing. Most of them will stay (and ultimately meet!) indoor, if they can’t be motivated to stay outdoor. And the former can often be way worst.
            Authorities are starting to understand these aspects only recently because of their typical previous military policing of the matter, but researchers were pointing out it as far back as in May 2020. You needed the Nature editorial and the likes to stir things a little up.
            People get locked because it looks the only way to prevent them from having social contacts (which they do moving here and there to see people). But staying out is actually the best we could do – and people must start to get it.

            (By the way, several Eastern countries didn’t enforce any general lockdown, strictly speaking, but, way more important, I’m not so sure about that way of speaking in so very general terms about *East Asia culture*; even if we limit to China, South Korea and Japan, very few people would agree about any sort of common culture. These analysis are more about our orientalism…).

            It’s quite appropriate what I just read on inrng’s Twitter timeline… the Nice major is thinking about asking the race not to come – but not in order to avoid crowds! On the contrary, he wants all the seafront available to encourage people going outdoor, now that the figures allow it.

            Last commentary from me on pandemics for a while.

          • J Evans Thursday, 11 March 2021, 1:02 pm

            Gabriele, levels were much lower back in *early* March 2020 than they were during subsequent peaks. The death rate was very high compared with the number of cases due to the lack of preparedness and the lack of knowledge on how to treat patients. The death rate per number of cases is now much lower, albeit testing is now much higher, skewing those results somewhat.

            I can’t claim great knowledge of East Asian culture, but it’s clear to see that it is largely the public’s behaviour there that has meant they have had far fewer cases and deaths.
            One extremely obvious example is the wearing of masks. East Asians wear masks a lot – for example, in Japan, people wear them when they have a cold, to stop the cold spreading to others. In Covid times, mask-wearing in these countries is basically culturally mandatory – everyone would question you if you were not wearing one. Contrast this with the UK, where for the first few months we were told masks were not necessary, and when I was in the supermarket in the early days I was one of 5-10% of people who were wearing them. Even now, only about 10% of people wear masks outdoors in the UK, and there is no rule to wear them inside an apartment block, for instance, despite this clearly being an indoor space.
            I could go on and on, but have done so enough already.

          • The Inner Ring Thursday, 11 March 2021, 3:13 pm

            You can see the WHO guidance here with the “3 Cs” of crowded places, close contact and confined spaces to avoid, especially the combination of all three here.

            If you want to go outdoors to a bike race, keep some distance between you and others and you should be ok, (this includes at all times, not just when waiting for the race to come by but when it has gone and people are queing to walk down a path or get into a car park etc).

            Different countries are going to have different rules, Paris-Nice passes a lot of empty countryside so it is different to, say, the Amstel or the Tour of Flanders which have large urban/suburban portions along the way. Plus each government has their own plan for better or worse and a cycling blog’s not much use in exploring it.

    • JaimeRoberto Thursday, 11 March 2021, 4:51 pm

      I was surprised by that too, but they were outside and mostly masked up. The likelihood of transmission is extremely low. Thankfully nobody was running alongside the cyclists shouting in their faces, at least from what I saw.

  • DJW Thursday, 11 March 2021, 10:43 am

    I was surprised too. The advice is being ignored. In my French town too where, unlike last year, people congregate on sunny days and the police do little.

  • Somers Thursday, 11 March 2021, 12:13 pm

    Couldn’t figure out what Matthews was doing on the last climb. Was bouncing all over the place but wasn’t clear if he was working for Hamilton or Hamilton was working for him. Certainly spent a lot of energy for no reward

    • J Evans Thursday, 11 March 2021, 12:52 pm

      I thought he seemed to sprint for the bonus seconds on the final intermediate sprint, trying to take 2nd place there after Roglic, but left his sprint too late and came 4th. Then again, he lost 2 minutes to Roglic in the end, so maybe he’s after the points jersey? But I think ‘bouncing all over the place’ just about sums it up.