The Moment Paris-Nice Was Won

In 1972 Eddy Merckx was so confident of winning Paris-Nice that before the start of the final stage he posed for photos with a speedboat, a prize that year. Only Raymond Poulidor rocketed up the Col d’Eze to win the stage, take the race overall and collect the prize. Primož Roglič can show a cannibal-like trait at times but must also know a thing or two about not counting chickens until they hatch, or as they say in Slovenian, “not praising the day until the evening”. But on the morning of the final stage it did look like Roglič had Paris-Nice sewn up and he even had a good chance of winning the final stage too…

Many star riders had opted for Tirreno-Adriatico, but if two simultaneous World Tour races might sound incongruous to outsiders or management consultants, the format works well with a large share of the peloton able to bank a week-long stage race in mid-March and viewers getting double the action. Perhaps more than Wout van Aert or Julian Alaphilippe, the one thing Paris-Nice really missed this year was the wind. Ride from Paris to Nice and long days across the plains are inevitable, and if the weather is benign, so is the racing.

We got some fine bunch sprints, but this is the sporting version of nouvelle cuisine when we’d hoped for a feast, a daily dish to be consumed in seconds rather than hours. Sam Bennett won the opening stage in Saint Cyr and would take second while Cees Bol seized the moment to take a chaotic finish, too.

Without echelons on the first two days, the time trial in Gien was the first obvious rendez-vous for the GC contenders and Roglič was the best, just behind Stefan Bissegger and Rémi Cavagna, with Brandon McNulty close, then Max Schachmann and Sacha Vlasov close by. The likes of Tao Geoghegan Hart, Jai Hindley, David Gaudu and Guillaume Martin were among those on the receiving end in a 14km time trial and they’ll face four times this distance if they ride the Tour de France.

The wine stage past Macon and into the Beaujolais was a lively one with a difficult finishing circuit. These are not legendary roads but they do offer great riding for visitors and make just as good terrain for racing as they do red wine. All talk of wine tasting was spat out with Roglič’s late surge to win solo as he crushed his rivals like they were grapes in a vat. He took 12 seconds by the line and another 13 in time bonuses with Schachmann again close by, and this was the German once again the second best. Schachmann finished 19th on the stage to Biot won by Roglič, but all were on the same time so this momentary gap didn’t cost anything.

Schachmann was back on Roglič’s wheel for the big mountain top finish to La Colmiane. Gino Mäder was the lone breakaway survivor and with a chance of the stage win, but after everyone else was dropped Roglič launched one last time to shake off Schachi and got clear, rounded Mäder and took the stage win, his third so far. Some would have preferred if he could have let Mäder win, but this was no place for gifts with Roglič being hounded by Schachmann, who’d been right on his wheel and still seconds separating the main riders on GC with a tricky stage behind Nice still to come, rather. We don’t need hindsight to see Roglič couldn’t afford to play Santa either. Name a rider who has lost a stage race because they didn’t distance their rivals enough: Roglič. Name a rider who has seen stage races slip from him on the last day: Roglič. He’d be a tragic figure if it wasn’t for all the races he wins.

The final stage of Paris-Nice is never a victory parade. Ever since the Col d’Eze time trial was abolished it’s often the most difficult and spectacular day of the week. Still, the briefing on the Jumbo team bus wouldn’t have lasted long, a stage on the same roads as last summer’s Tour de France and within easy riding of several of the squad’s Monaco apartments presented few surprises and they needed to keep a lid on the race so that Schachmann and Astana didn’t take time; maybe letting a breakaway go to mop up the time bonuses would help. “Just keeping Primož safe to bring it home“.

Which brings us to the moment the race was lost. Or rather the moments, because like many disasters, it’s not one mishap but a chain of events. The first crash on the descent from Levens to Roquette – the same used in the Tour de France’s opening stage last year, the ice-rink stage – where he dislocated his shoulder and had his shorts shredded. Many would demand days off work following an accident like this, yet Roglič was back on the bike but, however quickly we see a rider remount, these incidents are never cost-free. Muscles ache, skin burns, adrenalin has burned up energy reserves, swelling starts and more. Then Roglič crashed again on the same descent the next time and jammed his chain. He got a replacement bike but had to chase and there was a barrage, where the convoy was being held back, leaving Roglič and his Jumbo-Visma teammates to close the gap. They’re strong, but lacked a big rouleur and the likes of Oomen, Kruijswijk and Bennett were spent quickly in the chase up the Vésubie valley, leaving Roglič alone to close the final gap of less than ten seconds. This was the point of maximum danger, where the final metres are often the hardest part of the gap to close, and meanwhile, Astana and Bora-Hansgrohe had riders on the front, so it was a lone rider in yellow versus a team trial.

Roglič never gave up though, climbing as fast as he could and prompting many double takes from dropped riders coasting up the last climb and upon reaching the finish, congratulated Schachmann on his win with a fist-bump when by all accounts he might have felt like something less gracious and would be entitled to vanish inside the team bus right away (he didn’t show up for the podium ceremony to collect the points jersey). Schachmann himself said he didn’t want to win this way but he did, and not just because Roglič crashed, but because someone else had to win and all throughout he was the second best rider. It’s a small consolation for last year’s winner on his way back after that accident in Bergamo that broke his collarbone.

The Verdict
Not a vintage edition because the wind didn’t enliven the opening stages and once the race reached hillier terrain, the GC battle wasn’t much of a contest either. But like a restaurant that served up a surprise dessert, the memory might be of the final dish in the hills behind Nice. Primož Roglič looked to have the race sewn up with two stage wins and being the best-placed GC rider from the time trial, but all this just left him seconds ahead of his rivals and one crash was enough to topple him from the podium. He wasn’t alone: Richie Porte, Tao Geoghegan Hart and Brandon McNulty would also crash out of the race, and the absence of Ineos’s leaders allowed Jumbo-Visma to keep a grip on the race all week, but the final stage twist just adds to the lore of Paris-Nice.

Paris-Nice is often a small dress rehearsal for the Tour. Younger riders get a go and the youth competition showed strong rides by Vlasov, Lucas Hamilton, Jorgensen, McNulty and Paret-Peintre. It’s a tune up for next weekend’s Milan-Sanremo, too. But perhaps the long term effect will be on Jumbo-Visma; the team will give leadership to some of their other riders in upcoming stage races but last week’s racing suggests they’ll play it even safer in July.

52 thoughts on “The Moment Paris-Nice Was Won”

  1. As you say, not a vintage edition.
    As well as missing the bad weather, PN suffered from a lack of A grade riders. Whilst TA had the current WC, the last two TdF winners and the two most exciting riders in the peloton atm. PN had Primos and …er, that’s it. (Apologies to TGH , but he’s not quite in the same league yet).
    The most exciting stage of the week was yesterday’s, but even that got blown away by TA.

        • Give him a break! One race is a lot of to cover! PN was surprisingly boring and predictable this year. Following the food metaphor, it is not that the dessert was great – it is because the dinner was not fully cooked. I found it to be not pleasant even to watch: front teams pushing over the best and the unluckiest rider in the peloton with half of its bibs ripped apart. The way he was pushing over the climb, knowing that the race is lost, was incredible. True sportsman!

  2. A lot of pixels have been used up arguing about “racing ethics”, not sure why as crashes have always been part of bike racing. There never was a mythical past with complex rules of racing etiquette, does anyone think Sean Kelly, for example, would ever have turned down the chance to go for a victory in these circumstances.

    Perhaps more interesting is Primoz Roglic’s emerging pattern of loses from winning positions – 2019 Giro, 2020 Dauphine, TdF (almost Vuelta) and now here. In each case you can say it was “bad luck” of one sort or another but “bad luck” seems to follow some riders (ask Richie Porte). Coincidence? maybe but it must impact on him personally and on the team.

    I know not P-N related but after watching Wout van Aert’s efforts on Saturday and then seeing images of Matthieu van der Poel staggering over the line and then collapsing I did wonder about the longer term effects of such efforts. Not just for Tirreno Adriatico but also for upcoming races like Milan San Remo. Riders do not have infinite resources, no idea about the sports science but there must come a point when such efforts begin to detract from performance rather than add to fitness.

    • Davide Cassani defended that it was a good way to prepare for Sanremo on MvdP’s part, and that’s quite typical, too. He sure knows a couple of things, whereas I actually don’t as much, hence I couldn’t say if he’s dead wrong. He reported Trentin did sort of the same at the Matteotti before his 2nd place at the Worlds, well, I can’t say if that bodes well for Mathieu either…

      • I think there is a pattern emerging here. Perhaps a method to the marvellous madness of Matthieu?

        Bink Bank tour 2020, outrageous solo effort (60km), two weeks later Flanders victory.
        Kuurne Brussels Kuurne 2021, attack 80km out, next week victory at Strade.
        Tirreno-Adriatico 2021, gut wrenching 60km solo attack, following week…

        • Yup, Bettini used to deliberately “bonk” on a couple of Vuelta stages in his preparation for the Worlds each year and that seemed to work for him. Having said that, there must be a limit to how much of this sort of effort can be made before the constitution tires and form dips. It’ll be interesting watching to find out.

    • To wit, in relation to Kelly, Stephen Roche started the final stage of the 1987 edition of Le Championnat des Irlandais (a.k.a. Paris-Nice) in the leader’s jersey. However, he punctured on the Col de Vence and Kelly’s Kas team didn’t look back. Kelly went on to win, with Roche finishing fourth overall.

      Yes, Roche came close to winning Paris-Nice and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 1987, along with the few other races he did win.

  3. One man made the race, same man destroyed it. Boring to me, with a bitter dessert.
    We’ve been lucky with Tirreno-Adriatico delivering great classic’s rides on every stage.

      • If his shoulder had ‘popped’ out, it is possible for someone with such knowledge to put it quickly back in again. There’s a brief sensation of pins and needles but then you’re good to go again, it happened to me once upon a time.
        He wouldn’t have been able to ride on otherwise though, surely?

        • Yes, was more thinking it sometimes happens to riders regularly enough in crashes that they know what to do, they stick the arm out and shake it, or ask someone random to pull/shake it and things realign and pop back rather than needing the medics. Either way it can be painful in the moment and the dislocation starts to set off a response from the body which will have cost him later in the stage.

        • Nils Eekhoff dislocated his shoulder in the 2019 U23 World Championship. Apparently he popped it back in, then, with the use of a team car, caught back up to the bunch and crossed the line first with both arms in the air. He probably felt pretty similar to Roglič at the end of the day though.

        • There are different ways of dislocating your shoulder, some of which are much easier to pop back in than others. And the more frequently you pop a shoulder, the looser it becomes (absent surgery) and the easier to get back in (and back out again).

          They all hurt, but if you get it back in quickly enough, recovery can be much easier.

    • I read “separated” shoulder. Within the vagueness of the reports, these are not the same: dislocated shoulder is the humerus head separated from the socket. A separated shoulder is when the AC joint sprains/tears, but the “arm” stays in place. This is more akin to a collarbone injury – I experienced this a couple of years ago doing an endo on an MTB. Very painful, but I was able to finish the ride to get home. I still have the pointy end of the acromin showing up through my shoulder skin.

      So I’d say you can totally finish a road ride with a separated shoulder, just painful and cranky. You can’t lift the arm above shoulder level or thereabouts.

  4. An excellent write-up, as usual, thank you.

    I have to say, while I’m no fan of Roglic’s style or his team’s US Postal-like tactics (when they don’t screw it up, and the DS doesn’t just forget about the race to take a leak, that is), you have to admire the man’s grit and determination on the last day. And for that matter, his fair-play attitude, on circumstances that many would have found unfair. Not sure I would have had the courage to fist-bump Schachmann in those circumstances.

    Schachmann said he “didn’t want to win like this”, but surely if he didn’t want his team to ride when Roglic had his second mishap, he had the authority to say so? If only he had attacked a weakened Roglic on the last couple of climbs, nobody would have complained. Doesn’t seem very sincere, but the race needs a winner.

    The lack of weather may have made this edition a rather low-key affair, but the end was exciting, and will be remembered. After all, who doesn’t love a good polemica?

    • As for Schachmann, he saw Roglič crash but might have assumed he was on his way back and that his team were riding hard in order to bring the break back so that they could set him up for the sprint win in Levens? Often on TV we know a lot more about what is happening in the race than the racers do. But it could equally be he saw Roglič wipe out and ordered “Vollgas” on the radio too.

      • The break was sentenced enough – it’s not like they were caught under the flamme rouge – and Roglic came as close as less than a hundred meters from the back of the main bunch. Not the most sincere declarartion ever, but that’s part of the game too, I guess. They could at least come up with something better, like, dunno, blaming Astana (that once used to work quite well).

        • +1 Sadly, J-V is starting to look like a team you can count on to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. They can buy up a bunch of top riders but mis-management can’t make them win. I kept wondering WTF was the team car? If there was ever a time for a sticky-bottle this was it…in fact just a bottle as it seemed poor Roglic was without one once he took the spare bike. And the guy who fell off twice went so fast with his a__ hanging out of his shorts that his teammates (who I assume had not crashed?) couldn’t do much to help him catch up? WTF?Whomever chose the lineup for J-V’s Paris-Nice 2021 is probably being asked some questions and the sponsors might be asking if some money might be spent on better directors rather than just good riders, especially now that they seem to have disillusioned their latest top shelf buy (BigTom) to the point of stopping?

          • Don’t know if this has been mentioned elsewhere but the main criticism on French TV was at J-V for throwing everything at a quick chase and burning up their matches unnecessarily. The idea that a few riders could be left in the group to drop back later if necessary didn’t occur to them. This is an unprovable scenario of course – we don’t know if it would have worked better or not – but J-V seem to constantly be overreacting to previous crises (in this case the Como Giro 2019 stage) and never finding the happy medium.

          • I was thinking of that too, that a chase at 95% rather than 105% might have lasted longer but Bennett and Kruijswijk would always struggle to match what Astana and Bora had up ahead. Using up the team was risky but they needed to close the gap urgently, before the turning to the climb too, it as all or quits for this point so burning up helpers could have worked. Above all, this was all playing out in real time on a windy valley road.

          • Also worth bearing in mind that a barrage was imposed, likely because the commissaires hadn’t seen the crash and so had to assume Roglic had been dropped due to racing circumstance (eg going slowly on the descent) as opposed to a crash/mechanical. That meant that he couldn’t draft any cars to get back, making JV’s job much much harder…

    • I’m no fan of JV’s tactics either. Not only are they dull a la Sky/Postal, but they go even further, often strangling races when they have no need to (last year’s TdF): sometimes, you can let a break go and save your team for another day. And as Rooto said, it was odd that they decided to burn off all their riders in one fell swoop.

      Bora’s excuse for riding was weak: what they should have said was ‘Why should we wait for a guy who has crashed twice? Is that our fault? Also, did anyone wait for our guy when he had a mechanical?’

      The notion that you should wait for the race leader but not the rider in 2nd is patently illogical.

  5. Roglic is hard as nails and a true champ. Serious talent and a winning machine. His clash with Pogacar is the only story for July.

    • Hard yes, but also brittle. If Hinault was granite then Roglic is more like slate. He gives the impression of being at the absolute maximum of his talent, whereas Pogacar is only at the beginning.

  6. All this aprobrium for JV had me wondering what part Magnus Cort had played in Roglič’s downfall…

    …but back with Plugge, I wonder if either J or V or indeed any of the other sponsors (which I note include the execrable Reece Mogg’s investment company) will truly be unhappy with the publicity generated. Looking at Jumbo’s TV ads, at least, they seem to enjoy a sense of the absurd.

    I’m sure there will be concerns, as Larry T sets out, that strategic management of key resources is not appearing to be a key competency. However I’m not sure which team manager is a better fit for JV that perhaps JV?

  7. Thanks again to INRNG for great PN write ups. Shame the race didn’t quiet reach the same level.

    Given that there were two races available for viewing I enjoyed the overall experience. New, attacking and exciting young riders appearing. Old teams and their riders struggling and failing dismally to reach the heady levels of the past by a country kilometre. Change is always refreshing.

    These two events proved that deep pockets are not enough to provide a dominating force. It also makes the point that capping teams finances would be detrimental to a sport desperate for financial support.

    • Of course, deep pockets are not enough. A serious level of political protection (I mean, inner politics of the sport – though sometimes it goes even beyond that) is normally the key factor.

      And the main point I’ve been seen now and in the past weeks, when finances are concerned, is that we should thank Larciano and Laigueglia, La Marseillaise and the Etoile de Bessèges, the Tour of Provence and the Tour de Var, the Clásicas of Almeria and Valencia, that is all the “small” races which barely survived to the “reform” of cycling (always on the brink of being shut) and which now prove themselves more resilient than some clay-footed giants, granting precious rare racing days to many athletes in order to then have a wholly competitive field. Same with Tour de l’Ain or Burgos last year. And CX should obviously be thanked, too, but that’s a different story.
      The huge financial support some teams can collect for different sets of reasons isn’t necessarily bad as such, but it should be a part of a sustainable environment. And, although too many decision-makers have long failed to grasp the difference, being sustainable doesn’t equal to being bigger or richer. If financial support doesn’t flow towards other structures which are equally necessary to the sport as big teams are, it’s going to be harmful for sustainability in the middle term: and, no, it’s not going to do that forced by the sheer nature of things – I guess we are now all aware about trickle-down economic theories being nothing more than a cheap rhetorical trick.
      Please note that it’s not about *one* team, or *some* teams, and even less so about teams in general: same goes for some big races or organisers, too. Successful Italian races (pro races but sometimes even Granfondos, too) draw resources which ultimately prevent the setting-up of highest-level pro teams. The system can work only if via one or more mechanisms a part of the financial success is shared.

    • If you cap budgets, the money is spread more evenly. This will encourage more businesses to sponsor teams as the very big teams will not have such a great advantage – thus the team you wish to sponsor is more likely to win more often. (The system would be gamed, of course, but there would be more equality, not perfect equality.)
      A small number of teams having much more money than the rest is not only bad for finances, it’s – more importantly – bad for the sport. Without these ultra-rich teams, riders would be spread more evenly between teams, and thus we would have more riders competing to win and fewer super-domestiques, thus making stage races/grand tours more interesting.

      • “thus making stage races/grand tours more interesting.”

        That’s not a certainty though is it. There is also the risk that it has the adverse effect. Is the current state of cycling that bad that you think it is worth running the risk of making it worse by instigating a budget cap?

        How would a budget cap work with teams being based in different countries each with different taxation policies.

        • It’s mostly just the Tour – and sometimes the Vuelta – that are dull. The big teams target those races most, and thus we get a procession with one or another team’s train riding up mountains until their leader fires off in the final few hundred metres.

        • Other sports manage a budget cap – you could take taxation into account: make the cap by net income. I’m very far from an expert, but I’m sure it’s possible.

          It’s not a certainty that it would lead to more interesting racing – I think it would.

  8. Thanks INRNG for the excellent coverage and analysis!
    With hindsight Grischa Niermann was surely right: “We’ll miss Tony in the coming days, that’s for sure. But we can’t change that. We’ll have to do it with six riders now”.
    No matter if he would have been able to help out in the race situation after the crash, but his abilities would have surely helped everyone else to save some watts before the decisive moment.
    Not recognised by the general public and press who will only focus on the crash of a leader and the win of a runner up, a true tournament style team sport with more variables to consider than any team sport I know.

  9. At a loss right now to know what fellow adherents of this excellent blog would want from a stage race, when I rather thought this edition of Paris Nice had everything, except maybe a day of bordures.
    I’m starting to wonder if the present is being tainted by a supposition that it simply can not be as good as the past, so it becomes impossible to revel in outstanding performance without the framing reference of at least ten, twenty.. fifty years’ perspective. So it is that we can’t appreciate Roglic or anyone else who made the race without a historical comparison to riders of yore ( who frankly were often pretty mediocre, cranking massive gears that very obviously made them barely regional standard riders these days…), all of which tetanises the enjoyment of watching great athletes under extreme stress having to perform.
    We just watched a great race in which a proven top class performer has found his fate and faced it down with grinta and good grace. I’ll not forget his chase, with added precipice jeopardy, in which he came so close and still managed to ride with class.
    And I’m genuinely interested to know what would have made this a classic edition, if you think this one fell short.

    • To make a very long story short, I for one would have appreciated more serious action in more than one single stage (when such action was prompted by chance rather than racing tactics – nothing wrong with the former, but the latter is just better). And a deeper field.

      That’s it.

      It’s not about nostalgy for the past: if you just tuned to south of the Alps, you’d see immediately what a spectacular edition of a race looks like. Thick with young talent (well, because of his peculiar story, Roglic is actually older than most stars now thriving in Italian races).

      A look at the past surely helps to put thing into perspective. Paris-Nice had already been being a superb stage race in its own right when Tirreno-Adriatico was essentially a prep race towards Sanremo. Then things started to change and Paris-Nice started to decline a little, actually even before Tirreno’s definitive rise. However, in recent years Contador and Movistar helped to keep it afloat in sporting terms (no financial risk for Pa-Ni, I hope).

      Even this year, I enjoyed both. Yet, nothing wrong in just putting on the record that 2021 Paris-Nice was *not* a vintage edition. It’s just a fact, and you can see that even comparing it with previous Pa-Ni edition, if you want to leave the comparison with Ti-Ad aside. Recent ones, too.

      It’s hard to have two huge races on at the same time, but I guess that’s what we all hope (as an exceptional feast, I mean – if it was too often, it would be a problem, indeed). And Sunday, at least, was a great example of that.

      • +1! I was going to reply to Plurien but then thought why not wait until Gabriele weighs in? BRAVO! Meanwhile, will anything change this afternoon at T-A? And will the less-than-great weather forecast for MSR hold up?

    • By the way, I guess you didn’t happen to read some power values of, say, Indurain (nearly 30 years ago), LeMond (more than 30 years ago), or the estimated values of Coppi and Gaul (60 to 80 years ago). Hour records in a known environment, uphill ITTs in known conditions, there’s a good material to elaborate a solid estimate, when you don’t have the figures we actually have for LeMond or Indurain.

      It’s impressive how slowly human evolution goes, no matter how many ketones you throw into the engine, or the cauldrons of marginal gains you might have fallen into.

      Which is all frankly irrelevant, given that racing is about racing, not about power figures. Which means cycling has been providing excellent racing for decades, and still does so. Average one, too, and boring one also, surely. Why not.

      • +1 As long as we have guys who race-to-win rather than not-to-lose things will be just fine. The current and upcoming crop of riders (like MVdP, Pogacar, Roglic, Bernal, etc.) seem to understand this and reject the “Numbers/DS says X” robotic style of racing that we’ve suffered through in the Froome (not just him, but his era) years.

      • I dunno, there’s something to be said for the systematic application of power. I just re-watched Stars & Watercarriers and if Merckx’s pure power does not impress you it most certainly did win races…

        • Interesting comment – I’ve often wondered if racing during the Merckx era was as dull to watch as during Indurain’s, BigTex’ or Froome’s?
          I love “Stars and Watercarriers” and “The Greatest Show on Earth” but I find myself rooting for Fuentes or anyone else opposing Merckx’ domination, same as I did against the others named above.
          After reading Daniel Friebe’s book on Merckx I think in some ways Eddy was one of those who raced not to lose more than vice-versa. Impressive? Certainly. Entertaining? Perhaps not so much.

  10. I’ve said before that P-N is my favourite one week stage race of the year – a mini TdF all in one week. However, I’d agree that it wasn’t a vintage edition. I think I prefer the format with a Prologue to start on the Sunday, followed by 2-3 days travelling south with the chance of wet/windy weather, then into the medium mountains with a ITT on the Thursday/Friday. The ‘normal’ final stage usually guarantees fireworks – however, this year provided the same, albeit on a different stage.

  11. I think we need to be careful about expressing disappointment that this race or that wasn’t ‘vintage’. If everything is spectacular, then the spectacular becomes normal and we take it for granted and just expect more.
    This edition of P-N seemed a good one to me, not one of the very best, but hey-ho.

    Any era of any sport dominated by a single team/character seems a little boring to me. I’m excited right now by the fact that we have Alap/MVDP/WVA on the start line at the classics (now if one Peter Sagan can just get his mojo back and join the party please) and Poj/Bernal/Rog +others for the stage races/GTs…

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