A stage into France’s empty quarter that gradually gets hillier and harder, with just enough climbing to spoil things for some of the sprinters. If Fabio Jakobsen had it easy, of sorts, yesterday, today is a different challenge.
Scattered to the winds: the problem with Paris-Nice is it starts in Paris, this means the early days of the race have to cross some unpromising places, endless flat terrain. But if the wind blows all changes, a languid procession towards an inevitable sprint is transformed into one of those days that enthrals viewers as they watch the peloton sliced to ribbons. So thanks to a light wind Monday afternoon was a and the peloton splintered times before definitively breaking apart in the second half of the stage.
Jumbo-Visma and Quick-Step had plenty of riders up front, Nairo Quintana was there as usual and Ineos had their two leaders in Adam Yates and Dani Martinez. Simon Yates and Ben O’Connor were both distanced at one point but clawed their way back.
Among the GC losers who missed the split were UAE’s Brandon McNulty and João Almeida, the tandem gone in a scene that Jumbo-Visma will long to repeat in this summer’s Tour de France trip to Denmark via the Great Belt bridge. Also ejected were Wout Poels, Jay Vine and David Gaudu. Bad luck struck Guillaume Martin, he made the split but had a mechanical and briefly took his team mate Tom Bohli’s bike only Bohli’s a towering ex-track pursuiter and Martin tells this morning’s L’Equipe he could barely touch the pedals. Later on Matteo Jorgenson of Movistar was on the point of making it back to the front group thanks to his team mates when he crashed. They’re all on salvage missions now, with time to spare for a stage win.
Fabio Jakobsen won the sprint, a length clear on the line but a whole class ahead when it comes to top speed.
The Route: 190km south by south west and into one of France’s most sparsely populated areas, the final 50km probably have more cows than people. It can feel a bit desolate in places, villages where many of the shutters are closed in the daytime, faded “for sale” signs hanging outside.
The race goes to Dun-le-Palestel, a small town known in cycling for its post-Tour de France criterium and it’s all more cheerful and scenic from here on. They cross the finish line with 44km to go and heads out for a hilly loop. There’s a fast descent into the pretty town of La Celle Dunoise and it’s from here that a 10km climb starts, nothing much at first with 3% slopes but after the town of Bussière-Dunoise it’s 6% to the Col de Peyroux. This is chased by a descent down a tiny rural road with one tricky S-bend in the hamlet of La Gasne, the kind of road where dropped riders can’t make up much ground. Then it’s back onto a wider road, just, and a flat sprint in Balsac and lumpy roads to the finish.
The Finish: a 4.5km finishing straight and used once already on entering the finishing loop. The final 1.8km drag up to the line, an average of 2-3% and it tightens up a bit more before the line.
The Contenders: the climb to Peyroux is 22km from the finish so we’re unlikely to see the same scenario as Sunday’s opening stage with attacks flying and staying away but teams can use the climb to soften up the sprinters. Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) is the safe pick, ideal for the lumpy finish and the uphill sprint. Can Fabio Jakobsen (Quick-Step) stay the course and keep fresh? Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) should be there too and Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) could be in the mix. Dylan Groenwegen (BikeExchange) is having a tough time and today’s course won’t help, he’s won uphill sprints in Paris-Nice before but they had a flat approach, today should be too much.
A breakaway has a chance today because so many riders lost time yesterday. Jumbo-Visma have the lead want to control the race but this doesn’t mean going as far as closing things down. It’s a lottery who goes clear and who might win from it, Matteo Trentin (UAE) ticks plenty of boxes being in form and a fast-finisher but he also crashed and could be sore and prefer an easy day. The finish circuit is reminiscent of Stage 19 of the 2020 Tour de France won by Søren Kragh Andersen (DSM) and he’s the kind of rider who could get away here too.
|Wout van Aert
|Jasper Philipsen, Fabio Jakobsen
|Pedersen, Coquard, Bennett
Weather: sunny and a top temperature of 13°C with a 5-10km/h headwind for much of the stage. It means a crosswind on the final circuit but much of the finishing circuit is sheltered by woodland.
TV: the finish is forecast for 3.55pm CET. It’s on France TV and Eurosport/GCN and then you can flip to Tirreno-Adriatico for the likely sprint finish by 5.10pm.