Paris-Nice Stage 2 Preview

The one pure sprint stage of the week, no pesky hills stand in the way and because the weather looks gentle probably no splits in the crosswinds either.

Into orbit: the early break saw EF’s Jonas Rutsch grab the mountains jersey for the day thanks to team work, he had Stefan Bissegger for company and they ensured Mathieu Burgaudeau was marked for the mountain points.

The final saw plenty of action. Matteo Jorgenson won the six second time bonus at the intermediate sprint, placed atop a climb, and Remco Evenepoel was second, the resurgent Egan Bernal third. The Belgian persisted but the move didn’t last long. Nor did the wait for the final climb and here Bernal launched and Evenpoel followed through again, this time with Roglič marking. This move briefly looked dangerous but a group of about 60 riders coalesced for the run into Les Mureaux.

One of the things Les Mureaux is famous for is the ESA factory where the Ariane space rockets are made. To launch an object into orbit it takes several rockets to fire one after the other. Lidl-Trek know this too for sprint trains, only a last minute withdrawal by Alex Kirsch left them one launcher short. So when Jasper Stuyven peeled off Mads Pedersen had to launch with 300m to go, too long and in his slipstream was Olav Kooij who had survived the climbs and attacks to contest the finish, taking the stage win and swapping his team’s yellow jersey for the race leader’s version. If he can win here he climbs up the longlist for Sanremo.

The Route: a start in Thoiry, famous for its safari park. 177km, flat and a near copy of 2020’s Stage 2 to Châlette-sur-Loing, a suburb of today’s finish town. It is often on exposed roads, past dormant cereal fields and the final 50km feature some narrow tertiary roads. The course is south-east on the whole meaning a crosswind for much of the time but the route changes direction several times including in the final 50km with headwind and tailwind sections too. The intermediate sprint in Puiseaux with 47km to has 6-4-2 seconds in time bonuses.

The Finish: a big boulevard finish. There’s a roundabout with 700 metres to go where it’s round the right side only and it’s a pinch-point before the finishing straight.

The Contenders: a stage winner last year as well, Olav Kooij (Visma-Lease a bike) is the easiest pick with recent form too but he’s not yet at the kind of level where he seems to rise to the top no matter how hectic a bunch sprint.

Fabio Jakobsen has the speed but his new leadout train at DSM Firmenich-PostNL needs work. He’s said this himself. Is Dylan Groenewegen a francophile? Because he keeps showing up to ASO’s mountainous stage races even if they present few opportunities for him but today is the day although his win rate, especially in World Tour events, is low these days.

Gerben Thijssen (Intermarché-Wanty) is on the up, he’s taking bigger and bigger sprint wins and often springing out at the last minute. Arvid de Kleijn (Tudor) was three times second to Tim Merlier in the UAE Tour and can get a breakthrough win here.

Should Arnaud De Lie sprint? Lotto-Dstny have been asking this already in the wake of his big crash in the Four Days of Dunkerque last year, plus he was off the pace yesterday, sore.

Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Fenix) might prefer a hillier day to get rid of some rivals and sap others. Arnaud Démare can do big boulevard finishes but his Arkéa-B&B Hotels leadout train is missing Florian Sénéchal. Pascal Ackermann‘s stage win in the Tour de Romandie feels like yesterday but it was five years ago that he got his breakthrough win, the first of many that year. Since then he’s slowed, two wins in 2022, two last year although this been a vicious cycle, he hasn’t been winning as much so hasn’t been backed as much. Now at IPT he could be their best chance of a win this week and so we’ll see if he can turn things around.

Kooij, Thijssen
Jakobsen, Groenewegen, de Kleijn
Pedersen, Groves, Démare, Bennett, Ackermann, De Lie

Weather: hazy sunshine at best, 11°C and a 15km/h breeze from the south.

TV: France3 for locals and VPN users, it’s on Eurosport too and likely to be on the same channel you watch the Tour de France. Coverage begins at 3.10pm and the finish is forecast for 4.30pm CET.

The Croissants of Montargis: Heard of Montargis? Paris-Nice has been here before, the Tour de France too. Some in France might know its castle and canals, the “Venice of the Gatinais”. Yet it could be more famous in China than France. To cut a long story short because you’ve come here for a race preview, Montargis has a curious central place in the Chinese revolution. A century ago Chinese radicals sponsored students to go to Europe and learn about revolutionary thinking. Mao Zedong was part of this scheme, but never made it abroad. Thousands did and Paris, London, Berlin were obvious destinations. Somehow Montargis hosted roughly 300 students over the years, a tiny fraction. Yet among them were many leaders of the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese Revolution, including Zhou Enlai, Chen Yi, Cai Hesen and more. About one in ten of these Montargis students would become ministers in Communist China, more became army generals too. These students paid their way by working and among them was Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping who spent months working in the town’s Hutchinson factory making rubber boots. He also got a taste for the waltz, football, black coffee and croissants. Decades later Deng had a diplomatic visit to France and sought to revisit Montargis, pining for his old haunts and the taste of a croissant again but there wasn’t time and the visit never happened. Today the Chinese internet is full of loyal articles about Montargis (蒙塔日, “Mung ta ri”) proclaiming the Hutchinson factory as a place of glory! with the obligatory exclamation. It’s said that Xi Jinping is could make his first foreign trip since 2019 later this year and has chosen France, there are whispers he might even visit Montargis in a tribute to his predecessors although it remains to be seen if he wants to evoke nostalgia for Deng. The visit would probably upstage today’s stage finish as the biggest thing to happen in town this year.

40 thoughts on “Paris-Nice Stage 2 Preview”

  1. It is hard to know what is happening with sprinters these days. In recent times they seem to have a year when they dominate and then fade into the background the next. No one is approaching the stature of Cippolini, McEwan and Cavendish.

    • To me it looks like Kooij and Philipsen are emerging as the sprint-mainstays for the foreseeable future. They have the grit, the power, the speed to excel in fast finishes after different types of races.

      • They’ve both got some range too, as we saw Kooij was there when other sprinters were gone.

        Makes it harder to do previews but more fun to watch as there are surprises rather than formalities.

  2. Rocket launchers and sprint trains, Inrng’s writing and local context knowledge always shines.

    Btw, where is Mads in sprint preview? Even if it’s pure sprint he should still get 3 or at least 2 rings. He has the form and the support.

  3. Holy cow, the knowledge of our esteemed leader, Mr. INRNG.
    That paragraph on China and Montargis is impressive beyond anything you would find on a cycling v-/blog or even in a promotional prospekt for the town/region.
    Was this researched knowledge or did you have it on hand already?
    As a Dane, I don’t think Pedersen will manage today, but he has expressed his intensions quite clearly to the Danish media:
    “Du har seks sejre i år indtil videre. Hvor mange har du efter Paris-Nice?
    – Jeg har syv sejre efter Paris-Nice. Jeg er ligeglad med, hvilken etape jeg vinder, så længe jeg vinder, siger Mads Pedersen selvsikkert på et pressemøde inden løbet.”
    Google translate or:
    “You have 6 victories so far this year. How many after Paris-Nice?
    -I have seven victories after Paris-Nice. I don’t care which stage I win as long as I win, Mads Pedersen states confidently at a press conference before the race.”

  4. Some time ago – it’s been already some seasons now – I dared to say that the pure sprinting field looked technically modest, both at the time and in perspective; it looked more manifest as years went by. Now just scroll through the piece above to have a shortlist of “ex-next” big figure in bunch sprints, Bennett, Groenewegen, Ackermann etc. Jakobsen might soon officially join the list, if the team switch is going to work the usual way.

    I used to think it was a normal cycle, but I’m starting to wonder whether it is more structural and what the factors might be.

    Diminishing specialisation among riders and increasing specialisation among teams? (Learning from the USPS and later Sky school, a big team wouldn’t even think about bringing into a GT a double challenge, i.e. both in GC and sprinting… now this is applying in shorter stage races, too). An overall decline in track racing as a solid match with road racing? (Track racing in general looks on a slightly downward slope, but in this case, too, it looks that when you want to target heavy medals on the track, you leave a bit aside road racing). A strong generation of attackers which changed the spirit of racing, hence making bunch sprints less probable, and less rewarding for a team to put its options on pure sprinters? Less races on juvenile levels, and obviously the ones which fade first are those which look doomed bunch sprints?

    These are (very weak) conjectures and maybe the next generation of actually great sprinters is already winning as in Kooij, Thijssen or De Klejin. For mere statistical reasons, the monstre generation of attackers we have had and we’re having in Alaphilippe, van der Poel, Pogacar, Evenepoel, van Aert (Sagan before them, on his days) will come to an end and won’t be followed by an equally exceptional one, which will mean that the general trend of racing will reward again betting on a bunch sprint.

    Yet, it’s curious how a slightly different mix in the bunch can shift the general mood and approach to racing, which on turn changes route design, which again feeds back on racing style etc.
    The Sanremo is approaching, and a “bunch” sprint is now… long due! What had become “the sprinters’ Worlds” in the late 90s and for more than a decade hasn’t now seen a group greater than 10 riders arriving together for nearly a decade, i.e. 8 years ago with Démare and the corresponding Strava polemica. Since then, a lone win has been the most frequent result, even! More generally, that 3-year stint with Démare, Kristoff and Degenkolb (none of them a pure sprinter, rather strong men with Classics skills) offered the only 10 to 30 sprints since 2010.

    As I said, time for a larger sprint, if Pogi isn’t going to fly away like a dove ^___^
    Anyway, the change we’ve been watching is brutal. For good.

      • For me, Strade Bianche would have been a lot more interesting had Pogacar not been in it.
        There’s only so many times I can watch amazing solo performances before it just looks like a very impressive training ride.
        I prefer to see a race – even if it’s between lesser riders.
        Also, lengthening Strade Bianche will only make it more likely that someone like Pogacar dominates. Better to make it less hard and more open to others.

      • Stage one of P-N was the more interesting race, I found.
        For me, Strade Bianche would have been a lot more interesting had Pogacar not been in it.
        There’s only so many times I can watch amazing solo performances before it just looks like a very impressive training ride.
        I prefer to see a race – even if it’s between lesser riders.
        Also, lengthening Strade Bianche will only make it more likely that someone like Pogacar dominates. Better to make it less hard and more open to others.

        • Until MSR, I’m not making any effort to be in front of a screen to watch any bike racing though I have to confess my wife cut short our ride on Saturday so she could see live-coverage of the women’s Strade Bianche and we did set up lunch in front of the screen for the men’s race. A nice antipasto for the coming season IMHO.
          P-N, T-A, etc. might get replayed if there’s nothing better to do.
          I’ve been listening to (though hitting the “advance 30 seconds” button a time or two) the Ghost in the Machine podcast which I find kind of interesting. Keep wondering if the guy’s ever going to actually find anything other than rumors?

    • I keep wanting to do a piece about the relative decline in sprinting but it’s a subjective thing as you can know a sprint stage or one day race when you see it but it can be hard to count the fall in sprint opportunities in one day races and grand tours although it is a thing, certainly speak to the sprinters and they will say so. Teams don’t invest as much in sprinting relative to other areas and sprinters are not as well paid as they were relative to GC riders and others but this is hard to separate from the value to the reduced chances, as in there is no single sprinter winning a lot so the salary is spread across several riders.

      • However, I think that decline in number of races or stages (occasions for sprinters) is a consequence of the lack of star sprinters rather than the other way around. GTs always provided a serious share for bunch sprints, but when they started to notice that it was about random winners or so, just as when you have a breakaway… well, the latter is better, it grants more opportunities to your local movement, especially when you don’t have athletes who can be the absolut best. I showed here in the past that the actual number of sprint stages in GTs actually declined quite slowly and recently, that is, when the trend of modest sprinters was already well established. Anyway, as I wrote above, there are now several related process on at the same time, reinforcing each other.

        • How does this fit with the way-too-often “Race X (most often MSR) is dull, dull, dull because it always ends in a sprint. I’ll just tune-in to the last few kms or watch a replay.” claims?
          Does it have anything to do with the relative lack-of-personality on display compared with the likes of the Lion King, etc?

          • Petacchi – whose personality is probably the less gaudy I can come up with – had his share of public success and got his sprinter-twisted GTs. Likewise, Zabel was serious, solid, not exactly sprinkling. And Freire? Much loved. I think that sometimes fans can recognize great athletes with no need for the sideshow, which can anyway be an extra of sort. I’ll admit, anyway, that none of the above came across as dull or just one more pedalling machine.

    • The specialists themselves tend to say that organizing for a sprint has become much harder because of point farming. Before the promotion/relegation system there were just a few teams who wanted to contest a bunch sprint for the stage win, so they had a lot of time to organize their trains. Now all teams want to join the sprint, some smaller teams with multiple riders for the top 10 and top 20 positions. In my memory Cipollini almost always got into the finish straight in the right position. Nowadays even the best sprinters sometimes end up out of position.

      Maybe the rise of mini-roundabouts and road furniture also has to do with this, because it is often a misjudged corner that leads to sprint trains getting derailed.

  5. If i was a betting man, I’d put a Franc or two on Rutsch and Burgaudeau being in the break, otherwise winner? No one seems to be such a certain favourite as Philipsen at the moment for sprints, but Kooij seems to be the man in form so just a centime or two on him.
    Intersting to read about China’s future Chairman tempted by “Western decadance”! Although he was only 15 apparently when he left China for France.

  6. That paragraph on China and Montargis, respect. It would be odd to see Xi evoke nostalgia for Deng. He’d spent the last decade trying to replace Deng as the visionary leader and flip Deng’s political philosophy.

    Speaking of nostalgia, Bernal had certainly been evoking plenty with his performance yesterday. It is just crazy that we now think him as a somewhat “has been” and his Tour win was nearly 5 years ago.

    As a Chinese and an Egan fan, both type of nostalgia would be much welcomed.

    • Yes, hard to imagine Xi rehabilitating Deng by going all the way to Montargis but it’s said he could visit. The town has canals and the park where Deng learned to dance the waltz is getting a bridge designed by a Chinese architect as a gift from Beijing, it’s due to be opened later this year. Like a Kooij sprint win today the obvious outcome is the ambassador in Paris comes to opening ceremony.

      • Thanks for Mung ta ri too ! I knew communist leaders came to France, but I had no idea it was in Montargis. France was a really nice place for future dictators in those years : Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, etc…

        • It’s said that Ho Chi Minh might have worked/studied in Montargis too which makes it even more of a weird coincidence but I didn’t find proof, or search too hard for it, so left this out.

        • Well, it’s more the liberal leaning lieutenants. Zhou Enlai was always considered the more approachable gateway to Mao era China while we wouldn’t have the China today without Deng (and Deng became the leader was more or less down to being the last survivor of that generation rather than being groomed for it).

          So in a sense your more Dynamic/Attacking Sepp Kuss than your calculating, cold, Froomisk Jonas Vingegarrd.

          A sort of more vibrant

  7. Extremely exciting to see Bernal making a proper comeback now.

    Hope he gets his just rewards at some point this season, even if it’s just a TDF stage that would be really nice to see as I had begun to fear it was all lost.

    I’m actually with Larry T on P-N vs Strade – Strade has fast become nearly my favourite race of the season and over the years my P-N/T-A interest has waned. The Strade landscape even makes a Pogacar masterclass still seem magical to me at least.

    • I’m with JEvans on this that the long range attack/win a la Remco and Pogs are really terrible to watch. Too many racers avoiding others has made this worse.

      • Seems to me that it’s nothing new for the real champions to win this way; look at some of Fausto Coppi’s win times, he was out in front on his own for many of his victories.

        • As Eddie Merck’s himself said real men ride off the front. It seems unusual to do it from 80 km but the attack stood out. Kiss knows how to go uphill but he simply couldn’t match Pogacar. Pogacar didn’t simply sail away but maintained the effort and slowly increased his lead. It was an impressive ride on a testing course.

      • I agree with you and J Evans. I found the race so dull that I stopped watching with around 40km to go, and I don’t think I have ever done this for a major race. The worst thing about it was that none of the others even seemed to try to win, maybe apart from Van Gils. As Van Hooydonck said a short while after Pogacar’s attack, their race was only about the podium from that point. With all due respect for Pogacar’s amazing abilities, since those few who could potentially have matched his ride didn’t start, it turned one of the most beautiful events in the calendar into damp squib. (I must admit, it probably didn’t help that I didn’t really want him to excel in this way. He is an exceptionally talented rider and a seemingly nice guy, but I am a little fed up with the current Pogacar cult. It seems it’s not possible for his disciples to speak positively of him without hurling abuse at his competitors. I wanted them to be quiet for a day or two, if I am honest. Yes, I know, the golden boy will dominate many more races, so it’s not going to happen anytime soon…)

        • Being beaten by Jonas two years in a row at the Tour certainly made him more approachable. I certainly warm up to him more when he is playing underdog to the dominating Visma team, rather than when he was dominating in his second Tour win.

          • Yes, I also tend to side with the underdog, and in the TdF the pecking order has not been clear in recent editions. I don’t have any issues with Pogacar, but with those who claim that he uniquely impersonates exceptional talent and passion and simply enjoys racing, whereas the others are medicore and use sinister tricks to beat him. There are many gifted riders out there, they all work hard, they all enjoy their sport, and they all try to use their individual strengths in the most effective way. That is true for Pogacar and his competitors. Nuances are completely blown out of proportion by the fanboys/-girls, IMO, and their disrespect for his competitors annoys me.

  8. I’m not sure if the issues with Strade Bianche are with what riders do, or our attitude watching… of course, and it makes sense, we’re actually very focussed on “who’s going to win?”. In that sense, the race was soon over, especially as in the selected group behind Pogi most thought so, and acted accordingly. That said, they raced hard *to place*, which is part of the reason which made easier for Pogačar to win. The race had already been extremely demanding, and was hard fought since then on. TV also dedicated the majority of time to the different groups of “chasers” (mainly… chasing each other, really), and rightly so, although of course sponsoring implies that the winning move must be covered with a decent deal of airtime. Obviously, and notwithstanding all the above, behind Pogačar it wasn’t a *huge* race all the same, essentially because there were no great riders there… still we had lots of mutual attacks, chasing, surprises and so on. If *that* was just what we’re looking for, it was there, and on TV. Yet, as I said, I think that’s only part of the story.
    Anyway, just compare this solo by Pogačar with his previous one. In that case, the chase was more solid, he got to the line exhausted, so the race “as whole”, or “the race for victory” might have looked better, but OTOH the race *behind the solo winner* wasn’t as eventful or even as selective as Saturday’s (just check the time gaps).

    • These are all good points, of course. I had hoped for an exciting battle for the victory. Maybe that’s because we focus more on the winner in cycling than in other sports. Pogacar’s move and the lack of opposition from the others meant that it didn’t materialise, so I (and probably quite a few others) lost interest. Even the fight for the podium seemed underwhelming. I didn’t watch until the end, so I can’t judge, but you seem to confirm this. So this is all about the viewer’s percepetion, and not about the race as such. I am certainly not criticising Pogacar or the others for how they approached it. It’s not their duty to entertain me (well, OK, there wouldn’t be any professional cycling if we found it boring all the time, but that’s a different (non-)topic). They are athletes, and they are entitled to race as they see fit. It might eventually cause a headache for the race organisers though. If, due to the timing and the profile of the race, you tend to attract just one exceptional rider who dominates the race, then you will eventually have a problem. However, it is too early to tell if the tweaks to the route will have such an effect.

Comments are closed.