It was a day made for Wout Van Aert, but the Belgian was powerless against Mads Pedersen, who launched with 250 metres to go and won convincingly on an uphill drag in Paris-Nice stage 3 – taking the first World Tour-level victory for Trek-Segafredo in 2022.
It was a stage for fit sprinters who could get over the shallow gradient climbs. Jumbo-Visma and Cofidis paced on the hills for their leaders Wout Van Aert and Bryan Coquard. It worked as many sprinters such as Sam Bennett, Dylan Groenewegen and Fabio Jakobsen were dropped early. There were many solo attacks from multiple French team riders and Søren Kragh Andersen, who tried even twice, but it was pointless as sprinter teams controlled the situation in the peloton, particularly Movistar presumably for Garcia Cortina.
The final kilometres were going up a slight rise. Trek-Segafredo duo Jasper Stuyven and Mads Pedersen were in the best position as they were drafting behind an Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert rider who was pacing hard for Biniam Girmay, despite Girmay being deep in the peloton in a terrible position. The yellow jersey, Christophe Laporte, moved up and positioned Van Aert behind Pedersen’s wheel, taking that spot away from the smaller Bryan Coquard.
Stuyven led-out Pedersen, who started his uphill sprint with 250 metres to go, leaving him with a full 20 seconds in the wind, resembling a Thor Hushovd long-range style sprint. Like in yesterday’s stage, where Van Aert could not match Fabio Jakobsen’s acceleration, the Belgian champion struggled to follow straight onto Pedersen’s wheel when he kicked. It looked like the Dane started his sprint early, but Van Aert was not even able to come out of his draft.
Pedersen took his 2nd victory of the season. His first victory was in Etoile de Besseges stage 1, which ended with a much steeper hill. Sprinting up a short climb seems to be Pedersen’s special ability if he is in good shape. Pedersen’s results in the early season are consistent and if he keeps this form, Trek-Segafredo should perform better in the classics than they did last year.
Bryan Coquard finished 2nd, beating even Van Aert. It was a perfect stage for Biniam Girmay but the Eritrean finished 6th as he started his sprint from a terrible position and needed to overtake many riders.
Stage 4 is a hilly 13 kilometre time-trial, to be undertaken by an extremely deep field of ITT specialists. Jumbo-Visma riders Primož Roglič, Rohan Dennis and Wout Van Aert might even take the whole podium whilst Stefan Küng and Stefan Bissegger will try to challenge them. UAE-Emirates Joao Almeida and Brandon McNulty, who got dropped early today, are not performing well so far in Paris-Nice, but perhaps Almeida will do a good time-trial.