Paris-Nice Stage 4 Preview

The first summit finish of the race and the place for the next round of Tadej Pogačar vs Jonas Vingegaard, this time the hard climb at the finish should tell us plenty.

Jumbo, just: arch favourites to win the stage, Jumbo-Visma were just one second faster than EF Education-Easypost. It’s the second time the US team has lost out in a team time trial this season by one second after the UAE Tour; their consolation is that Magnus Cort took the overall lead.

Jumbo-Visma won but how much did they celebrate? They brought such a strong team to the point that there’s reduced help for the mountains to come and Vingegaard “only” got 23s on Pogačar yesterday, but a win is a win. UAE will be delighted with the result and thanks to earlier time bonuses Pogačar starts today just 11s down on Vingegaard. We should note the different styles: Jumbo-Visma could have finished à l’ancienne with four riders; UAE had Pogačar attack the final rise and crossed the line solo.

Both Jumbo and UAE have something in common: they’ll be pleased Magnus Cort’s in yellow as EF will help with the work today while Jayco-Al Ula and Groupama-FDJ will be purring with their times for Simon Yates and David Gaudu. Ineos were 48s down, not a result they’d have signed up for.

The organisers also had a win, there’s been a lot of discussion about the rule change and not only did it give more to talk about, it opens up possibilities for future team time trials. Imagine a hillier course where squads have to decide whether to deploy a heavy rider first and lose them mid-way and so on. Now teams always have to manage their effort, it’s just this “new” format means it happens in front of our eyes, it’s the striking visual aspect that makes it work on TV.

However there could be a wait. The first three stages of the 2024 Tour de France have been announced already and they finish at the foot of the Alps, how to put a team time trial with the crossing of the Alps? It’s possible. Also on the subject of the 2024 Tour, look out for details of the final Nice stages in the following days.

The Route: today’s stage has three parts. First 110km across the plains without too much going on but it’s still 110km to do and the weather forecast looks grim, it might not be defining, but it counts.

Second, after Vichy things get hillier. The climb of the Côte de Vernet is more than the stats suggest thanks to some steep sections, and after it keeps climbing after the KoM point on a smaller backroad before descending to the scenic Sichon valley. From here the road drags up to the Col de Beaulouis, one of those forever climbs that goes on for the best part of 22km, via the second KoM point and then at the top of the pass there’s the intermediate sprint (6s-4s-2s), it’s all on a wide road.

It’s almost worth to keep sprinting beyond this as there’s a brief descent and then a short climb before riding into the town of Laprugne. On the way out the road narrows and then it’s down a narrow descent before a tight turn for the final climb. There’s not much time or space to move up in order to be ready for the summit finish.

The Finish: the third and final part is the climb to the finish. You can have uphill finishes in the massif central that drag up without being too hard. But this is 6.7km long and the slope averages 7.1%, and that includes a brief downhill and flat section near the top so typically the slope is way more selective.

It’s got a steep start where it pays to be in position early but the slope slackens off a bit after. It often doesn’t feel like 8% except for a few hairpin bends where the gradient seems to pick up before and stay higher through the curve and after, these are the hardest parts of the climb. The blue section on the profile shows the slope easing but in reality the slope flattens off, there’s even a brief dip down and then an almost flat section across before it picks up again for the final kilometre.

The Contenders: a breakaway or Tadej Pogačar? The problem is that not many riders that far are down on GC today and among those that are, there are not many to pick from as a winner on this uphill finish if they get there in a group, especially when you subtract those on duty for their GC leaders. Still Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Dstny) comes to mind and longer shots are Stephen Williams (Israel-PremierTech) and Mikaël Cherel (Ag2r Citroën) who yearns for that first win after 17 seasons as a pro.

EF Education might tempted to pull so that Cort can do a miracle on the last climb and stay in the lead but if he was surprisingly good in the Volta ao Algarve, today’s climb has sustained sections at 8% while the Alto de Foia he won on is a gentle 5%, they have Neilson Powless who is more suited.

Tadej Pogačar (UAE) is in form, finds terrain to suit and seems to have restless legs syndrome since the start of this race. The time bonus on the line will tempt him further.

Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) can and has got the better of Pogačar in uphill finishes, the question is just how good his form is? Simon Yates (Jayco-Al Ula) and David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) are also outsiders, Yates is good at going clear and staying away while Gaudu is fast for the finish but their problem is how to get the jump on Pogačar and Vingegaard and they’re still GC contenders so won’t get room. It’ll be interesting to see how Mattias Skjelmose (Trek-Segafredo) does. Romain Bardet (DSM) is the local but that doesn’t make him any faster, he’s just handy for a climb like this. Finally Tour of Oman winner Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar) thrived on the Jebel Al Akhdar climb, things slow on the flatter upper section and regroup, he’s got a good chance for the sprint if others mark each other.

Tadej Pogačar
Jonas Vingegaard
Yates, Gaudu, Martinez

Weather: a strong chance of rain early on but the temperature’s warming up, 12°C and a 20km/h SW wind meaning a light crosswind for much of the stage.

TV: the stage starts at 12.30pm CET, TV coverage begins at 3.00pm CET and the finish is due around 4.40pm CET.

Thirsty work: today’s course passes through Vichy, a city famous for two things, first being the seat of the Vichy government during Nazi occupation but we can leave that. Also it’s a spa town known for its mineral waters. You can find many brands from this area, like Vichy Céléstins, loaded in bicarbonates it has a distinct taste. There’s also Saint-Yorre whose factory has a tap outside for passers-by to fill up bidons with water for free… only a sign in the window says it’s temporarily out of service and it turns out it’s been broken since 2017. There’s also Chateldon, marketed as a premium mineral water but it’s exclusive because supply is limited, the spring can only fill three million bottles a year; France’s Evian somehow manages that in half a day.

There’s been scandal recently as the OCLAESP health police raided the Chateldon plant in December 2020 after a whistle-blower claimed they were using additional CO2 to dope the size of the bubbles, allegedly while the label on the bottles claimed the bubbles were natural. OCLAESP? Yes, the same police agency that’s raided teams at the Tour de France and, as many a cycling fan knows, their raids generate headlines but any eventual convictions, if they ever happen, can take years.

One place OCLAESP don’t have to raid is the Charrier bottling plant on the side of today’s final climb, it is closed for good. It was said to be France’s purest and least mineralised water, as close to H2O as you can get out of the ground with few salts in it. The purity was also heightened by marketing claims that it was “full of life” thanks to dissolved radium which gave it “Super radioactivity”… a boast that probably wouldn’t work today.

23 thoughts on “Paris-Nice Stage 4 Preview”

  1. “super radioactivity” not something I would be looking for in my bottled water. Thanks for these amazing snippets of information Inrng.

    • Radon, the natural killer. However well behind the leader (smoking, i.e. the tobacco industry), radon is reportedly the second cause of lung cancer in absolute terms, the main one among non-smokers. Being “natural” isn’t equivalent to “healthy”… but it doesn’t mean there’s no human responsibility, either, starting with modest information campaigns and poor public investments or regulations in order to tackle the issue.

      Footnote – Probably the data underestimate for sadly obvious reasons the asbesto-related lung cancers (i.e., not mesotelioma), a clear contender for that 2nd place overall and 1st among non-smokers. General air pollution has a huge impact, too, but “surprisingly” it’s been the focus of targeted research only too little and too late… very recent results from the UK highlight its role and the detailed casual mechanism through which it prompts lung cancer. The figures sit close to asbestos’ and radon’s or even slightly above.
      However, while everybody would probably have linked air pollution to lung cancer, even before the research explained it in such detail, radon and even asbestos are less known factors, at least in the countries I know better, and even when they’re known, people tend to fail to perceive their huge impact.

  2. Yates seems the most likely one to go early and it might become a question of whether Vingegaard has to chase himself or if one of his team mates is up to the task. I suspect that Pogacar will sit on Vingegaard’s wheel until 20 m to go.

    • “suspect that Pogacar will sit on Vingegaard’s wheel until 20 m to go”

      I dont! 😉

      As inrng nailpointed it (as always) Pogo is suffering the restless legs syndrome. I highly doubt the symptoms of the disease wont show until 20m to go 😉

      • Even though Pogacar said he felt like sh*t at the start of the race, he was well enough to bag two 6 second bonuses and there’s another just 15km from the finish today. As it’s a tricky run in to the last climb, I’d not be surprised to see Pogacar go for the bonus.

  3. Ineos surely can’t be happy with yesterday’s result. Sure they have multiple climbers but to lose 48s at tenth place with at least two classic rouleurs (Tarling and C Swift) and some climbers who can TT must disappoint. What hope for a decent GC position now. Maybe with multiple climbers they will need a more radical strategy now.

    Soudal-QS won’t be satisfied either with a team full of solid rouleurs Asgreen, Lampaert, Senechal, Cavagna and Declercq.

  4. Vichy is well worth a visit with multiple 1900-ish splendid villas once occupied by Russian royalty and European nobles, the casino, fine and elegant avenues and splendid parks along the Allier.

  5. Your water stories brought back some memories of the first few times I went to France (LeTour) with the bike tour operation – it was kind of mind boggling….”We just want some f__king water!” and were clueless as to the merits (or not) of the various brands, some of which were awful, making us wonder why people would drink them? We finally figured out the cheap supermarket stuff in 2-liter plastic bottles was just fine…tasted like….water. When we got to Italy a few years later we were prepared for the same struggle, but it turned out Italian brands pretty much tasted all-the-same but the cheap supermarket stuff again got the nod.

    • Some of the water have health benefits, that’s why some people buy and drink them. I remember buying some Hepar once, it had a really bad taste but I learnt afterwise it’s good against constipation so a lot of old people drink it…

  6. Perhaps it’s just me but I found yesterday’s coverage very disappointing. No intermediate league tables, sometimes no idea who from each team was fastest and the impact on GC. If they are going to repeat this exercise a lot of work is needed on the presentation.

    • Agreed. I watched on FR3 but needed PCS live open on the PC for an overview, and even that didn’t detail individual riders.

      A second detail I found surprising was that team members were allocated UCI points based on the team fastest rider’s time. Example: Jayco’s Chris Harper dropped off early and lost over 6 minutes but still managed the same 4,29 UCI points as Matthews and Yates.

      • 100% agreed re:TV

        Well, the latter make sense because he probably contributed according to a plan to the collective effort. I actually didn’t see them racing, so maybe he had a flat or whatever and it was no plan, but this would be too complicated to sort out in order to give points. Instead, it’s quite logical that in case your early full gas effort is part of a strategy, you finally get a reward in terms of a share of what is labelled as a “team result” (note that the official winner is the team, irrespective of the allotment of GC times. At the end of the day, of course, if you lose a lot of time in GC here, you won’t get UCI points for your final classification).

        • TV always struggles with time trials but at least yesterday you could visually see what different teams were doing, it was obvious and more so than when a squad is in formation and you have to count the number of seconds each rider is pulling for to try and explore their pacing techniques. I think this is part of the appeal, people can easily see for themselves what is happening.

          • I have never understood why the race organizers don’t draw inspiration from cross country skiing in their TV coverage of time trials. A lot more intermediate time controls, fixed cameras filming every rider (that matter) when they are about to cross an intermediate time control, and – most importantly – tables showing the intermediate results while riders as the riders approach time controls, would surely provide more engaging coverage than endless motorbike footage of a big name without any idea of how fast they are riding?

      • Isn’t that how it should be, with the team aspect of this stage ? A rider who’s done a massive turn to propel the team principal to a fast time should get the same if it’s a TTT.

        Is that it for discussion of this stage format? ASO will definitely be doing this again if there’s no strong objection since it obviously is much better for TV and gives more scope to vary the type of course. It’s the different tactics that gave most interest and you can imagine a course with a climb in the middle could be a real poser at the team briefings:- Does the team stick together for the climb and gain from its rouleurs later on, do the climbers clip off the front, leaving the rouleurs to reassemble at the top of the climb and then try to catch up before the finish?
        – This type of stage could be a real point of interest worth watching. So many TTs just get attention when they’re over and the GC changes.

  7. Everybody seems to forget the two-time Paris-Nice winner Max Schachmann. They have a good enough team for crosswinds and this climb should suit him well. He can have a decent uphill sprint in such a scenario.

    • Indeed, yet both times he sort of looked a very lucky winner. Peculiar events, especially in 2020 😉 made him an unexpected winner (and, unlike this year, against what ended up being a modest competition). Twice! Curious, but ask Devolder: yes, you can actually win lottery twice.
      With a mere handful of exceptions through his whole career, Schachmann’s always looked a GC top-10 men, and hardly so, rather than a serious contender for the overall win in short stage races. Especially when the course is hilly or mountainous, I can’t remember him ever podiuming in any serious stage race, besides those two Pa-Ni victories.
      However, I’d be happy if he proved me wrong. Two-men rivalry is good, but a deeper range of contender is always welcome, or even needed.

      • He had a rotten year in 2022, hopefully he can get back to his best. But his Paris-Nice wins saw him right on the edge of what he can do, in 2020 he got off to a great start, then won the TT stage and so had a good lead for the Colmiane summit finish and just held on. This year the competition is that much higher, it’s hard to see him being able to get ahead of Pogačar, Vingegaard, Yates and Gaudu, especially as there are two summit finishes here.

        • I meant for this stage. I know that he isnt winning against Pog and Jonas. But still, if Roglic doesnt crash, Schachmann would have been a very respectable second place in 2021, against a good, not excellent, but good field of contestants. In P-N 2020 he would have been also second (or the same time) as far as I remember, that still counts for a very good result. Then he was 4th in Tour de Suisse 2021. So very respectable results for a more punchy rider. In my opinion he should be focussing more on hilly classics (bora has a lot of godd riders for this) and on stage hunting and be more of a GT super domestique for hindley, vlasov etc. I agree that winning stage races on a regular basis isnt working for him, but Bora wants to try him and Kämna as GT riders, I think both can nearly get a TOP 10m but nothing more serious.

  8. “a tight turn for the final climb” means a big fight for positions, but I think it will only be a small group left at the “flamme rouge”. As it’s only March, I reckon there’ll be a lot of looking at each other (apart from Pogacar who seems to attack to see what shape other riders are in).
    Let’s hope the rain does not cause problems.

  9. I enjoyed the new format but wonder if this was mainly because of the novelty value, rather than the inherent sporting interest of the new rule. Perhaps the answer is to change ttt rules for every race to add some spice. I’d like to see more of that as it tests the strategic craft of teams in a way that a normal road stage cannot. Just keep them short so the GC remains as open as possible.

    Curious to know what others think of the more intense approach to early season races now, in the past Tour contenders would have been more than happy with 7th or 12th place and maybe a stage at Paris Nice, now it seems like the Tour focused psychodrama is full on already, will this have a cost in July? Is it psychologically wearing on the whole team or will it boost their motivation? It still looks to me like Pogacar has trouble resigning himself in and conserving his effort for example. If he is just that strong wouldn’t he still be better holding more back?

    • Yes, persistent knee injury. Had surgery on it which kept him out for most of 2019-20, then had a return of it for majority of 2022. By the time he came back last year (won a stage of the Tour de Suisse) he was already signed on for B&B Hotels. Managed catch on with Israel when that went belly-up.

Comments are closed.