Paris-Nice Stage 2 Preview

A sprint stage and a good chance for Tim Merlier to get another win. The course has been designed with crosswinds in mind but it looks like Mother Nature’s holding her breath and it’ll be a calm but cold day.

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Merlier finishes earlier: a hectic finale. The climb out of Milon-La-Chapelle saw Neilson Powless and Tadej Pogačar launch and for a brief moment Jonas Vingegaard was caught out. Onto the next climb of the 17 Tournants and Pogačar went again, this time taking the six second time bonus and while this time Vinegaard followed, but lost out in the sprint. Pogačar kept going over the top and Vingegaard followed along with Pierre Latour but the Dane wasn’t pulling; he had Olav Kooij for the sprint and soon they sat up to leave Latour. Still, this set the tone, a fourth category climb here, an intermediate sprint there and Pogačar is a jack-in-box, ready to spring at any time.

Despite these attacks the field wasn’t shredded. Soudal-Quickstep guided Tim Merlier into the finish and when Quickstepper Florian Sénéchal got a gap this forced Bora-hansgrohe to chase and Danny van Poppel was used up. This prompted Sam Bennett to launch his sprint early while Merlier could bide his time, let Bennett fade and sprint past for a clear victory.

The Route: 163km and roughly south-east but the route has several pronounced changes of direction, a feature presumably designed to help ensure crosswinds at one point… if the wind obliges. Only today it looks calm so this should be a sprint finish.

The Finish: how long is a finishing straight? Today’s route picks up the D152 road with 13km to go and stays on it to the end, but there’s the autoroute junction and then the village of Ury to navigate. From here it’s one long straight road of 9km, sheltered by woodland. There is a roundabout with 500m to go but everyone goes via the left and it’s two lanes, the difficulty is that the exit is slightly over on the right, it’ll line out the bunch.

The Contenders: Tim Merlier and his Soudal-Quick-Step have come for stages like this although he lacks a pure lead-out rider but the likes of Yves Lampaert and Florian Sénéchal are capable. Today’s flat route and the dragster finish suits him well and as we saw in the UAE Tour he’s just proving better than the others.

The finish today has fewer traps so teams won’t get caught out so easily. Sam Bennett (Bora-hansgrohe) should be close and Alexander Kristoff (Uno-X) is suited to a course like this, especially given the cold conditions and he’s got Søren Wærenskjold as a powerful lead-out.

Is Jonathan Milan a sprinter or lead-out? The Bahrain rider is fast for a long finish to the point that trying to come off his wheel and go past seems hard for his rivals, yet he lacks the torque for a jump in the final 50 metres compared to the pure sprinters.

We can ask if Arnaud De Lie is a sprinter? Yes he’s got the power and bulk but there’s a lot more to him, so much that you wonder if preserving him from risky finishes makes sense. He can still win and while out of position yesterday seemed so quick in the closing metres.

A big boulevard finish ought to suit Arnaud Démare but that’s because he’s had a big train in the past, now Groupama-FDJ are trying to get him to manage without so that they can bring him and David Gaudu to the Tour de France and race on two fronts. He’s missed some racing, had Covid so that makes him a harder pick still.

Tim Merlier
Sam Bennett, Alexander Kristoff
Kooij, Démare, De Lie

Weather: grey, cold at 7°C and the chance of rain. But it won’t be windy so this means the stage is likely to be defined by the sprint finish rather than the peloton being cut to ribbons by the crosswinds. They’ll be a SW wind at 5-10km/h but it could gust to 20km/h but even in the exposed terrain that’s probably insufficient for crosswind chaos.

TV: coverage starts on France 3 for locals, GCN-Eurosport or whatever channel you watch the Tour de France on around 3.15pm CET and the finish is forecast for 4.40pm CET. If it’s just an expected sprint, tune in late to watch them thunder up the long finishing line.

15 thoughts on “Paris-Nice Stage 2 Preview”

      • An amazing record in the race, all the stages and the overall seven times.

        Also his wins also show how the race has changed of late, Paris-Nice has taken on more summit finishes and mountains, something like the Couillole summit finish would have been unthinkable not long ago, and it’s imported elements of a grand tour, even the yellow jersey. Likewise Tirreno-Adriatico with the summit finishes, team time trials and more, the record holder is Roger De Vlaeminck who’d struggle today (and not just because he’s 75).

        There’s a blog piece to be done on how so many races are merging into the same type of event, eg the Belgian classics all have their bergs and pavé now, many week-long stage races all try to be mini-grand tours too.

  1. “The course has been designed with crosswinds in mind..” is an interesting idea. Any proof or is this just assumption/suggestion? Seems like in March anywhere it’s flat the wind can come up, no?

    • It’s the changes in direction, they could just take a straight line to the finish but the course has corners and sections that are exposed to the typical westerly wind but change in case the wind is blowing from another direction. Race director François Lemarchand says just this, that they want to “play with the wind” with a route that will “spin around” to catch this wind.

      • Thanks, let’s hope the wind blows then…it’s blowing here in Sicily right now, the old “March comes in like a lion…” idea. Better go get the laundry in before it blows away!

        • Looking at the weather forecast there seems to be showers until the weekend. Hopefully it should be dry today so the expected mass sprint goes without incidents.

  2. De Lie impressed in yesterday’s stage: looked by far the fastest at the finish but was badly out of position so just had too much ground to make up.

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