Paris-Nice is known for its crosswinds and stage 2 delivered what everyone expected, full echelon action. In the end the groups of leading GC contenders all came back together and we got to witness a sprint between Wout van Aert and Fabio Jakobsen. Despite a savvy leadout from Christophe Laporte, the Dutchman destroyed the Belgian champion in the final 50 metres with a fast acceleration, taking his sixth victory of the season.
Almost for the entirety of the stage there was 19-27 km/h crosswinds with exposed roads, often with no trees or buildings to shelter the riders. There were also tailwind sections in the middle and end of the stage where it would be extra difficult to bring back a leading group. Prior to TV coverage, multiple riders crashed including Wout van Aert, who needed assistance from the medical car, but was able to continue the race.
The splits in the peloton started with 84 kilometres to go. Due to the nervousness and overlapping of wheels in the strong crosswind, crashes are inevitable and multiple riders such as Girmay, Mollema, Kruijswijk, McNulty and others, crashed in the peloton as everyone was trying to fight for their place in the rotation. McNulty and Almeida lost the most out of the main GC contenders in this stage, both losing over a minute.
Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl and Jumbo-Visma tried to split the group further, which they did successfully, forming a ~20 man group. Nairo Quintana again reminded us that he is great on crosswind days, despite his lower weight compared to the big rouleurs all around him. Positioning is everything on windy days. For some time AG2R riders were riding at the front in both the first and second groups for no reason, but later the groups joined together.
At the end in the tailwind section there were multiple attacks from the peloton as no team wanted to pace hard into the finish. Gilbert, Küng, Bisseger, Laporte tried, but they were closed down immediately by Quickstep who wanted a sprint for Fabio Jakobsen. Jumbo-Visma marked the next attack with Primož Roglič himself. Of course, INEOS reacted with Luke Rowe, who closed down this attempt. Later, the powerful Bissegger went for solo, but was caught by Lampaert.
Quick-Step controlled everything in the last kilometers with Lampaert, who was pulling for a long time, ending his turn with 1 km to go. In the sprint train for Jakobsen Quick-Step also had Štybar and Senechal. There were not left many top sprinters in the group, with Bennett, Jakobsen, Van Aert and Pedersen being the main contenders
Behind the Quick-Step train were sitting Jumbo-Visma duo Laporte and Van Aert. Laporte surprised Quick-Step riders with a powerful lead-out, after which Jakobsen was left alone and needed to close the gap to Van Aert himself.
Van Aert was in a good position to take the victory, but he was powerless against Jakobsen’s insane acceleration at the end. That was his sixth victory of the season and first World Tour-level win (although Kuurne was a high level victory). Van Aert’s crash at the start of the stage also might have influenced his sprint.
It was an unlucky day for the UAE-Emirates as both their GC leaders McNulty (losing +2:08 Laporte in the GC) and Almeida (+2:32) lost significant time. Gaudu, Vine, Mäder and Poels all lost at least 6 minutes today, while Vansevenant, Martin, Schachmann, Mollema, Powless, Jorgenson (crashed in the last kilometers) all finished in the third big group, losing to Roglič and the other top GC contenders +1:29.
Stage 3 is made for Jumbo-Visma and Wout van Aert. It should be a day for sprinters who can get over shallow and short hills like Bryan Coquard. The finish goes up a slight rise. The stage might be too hard for Jakobsen and Bennett type sprinters who were dropped quickly when Jumbo-Visma applied pressure uphill on stage 1. Expect to see the same tactics tomorrow, with what should be an exciting finale.