Brandon McNulty continues his great start to 2022 with another victory, this time at World Tour level. He won Paris-Nice stage 5, dropping everyone from the breakaway on the Col de la Mure climb and soloing to his 3rd victory of the season. Jumbo-Visma showed some vulnerability as Primož Roglič was left isolated on the long climb, but the Slovenian raced calmly and allowed his competitors to close attacks.
19 riders did not start today due to various injuries or sickness. Some of the biggest names that dropped out, some of whom we expected in the breakaway, were Powless, Bissegger, Mäder, Champoussin, Vine and Groenewegen. For teams to have consistent results across the year, it seems that it is increasingly important to stay healthy and avoid Covid, flu, stomach or other problems.
Jumbo-Visma did not need to pace today given the heavy time losses for the breakaway riders in the first four stages and they allowed a strong 10 man breakaway to form, which included decent climbers like Brandon McNulty, Matteo Jorgenson, Harm Vanhoucke and Valentin Madouas. The closest in the GC was Ruben Fernandez, who was behind race leader Wout van Aer by 4 minutes and 34 seconds. Jumbo-Visma predictably let it go, giving them more than 7 minutes advantage whilst van Hooydonck and Teunissen controlled the front.
Everything was decided on the penultimate climb, the Col de la Mure (7.7 km, 8.1%), which cresting 33 kilometres from the finish. McNulty was the favourite to take the win after his long range exploits at Faun-Ardeche and he attacked early on the climb. The American accelerated quickly, and no one could follow him. His countryman Matteo Jorgenson looked the next strongest rider in the breakaway and tried to pull him back, but McNulty was too strong. The UAE-Emirates rider gained over a minute’s advantage on the climb and rode solo to his third victory of the early season, beating second place, Frank Bonnamour, by almost two minutes after motoring away on the rolling terrain in the last 15 kilometres.
McNulty has started 2022 superbly as only Tadej Pogačar and Alejandro Valverde have gained more UCI points so far in the season. McNulty lost his GC hopes in the previous days after crashing hard in the crosswind stage and finished 14th in the ITT in yesterday’s stage. His early season performance suggests he might be more effective as stage hunter and one-day rider. McNulty is struggling to get good results in stages races as he cannot perform well on back-to-back hard days (Giro d’Italia 2020) or hard stages at the end of stage races (Basque Country 2021)
In the peloton, Arkea-Samsic was pacing on the Col de la Mure climb to make the race harder and set-up an attack for Nairo Quintana. Connor Swift did an impressive pull dropping many Jumbo-Visma riders. Even the race leader Wout Van Aert, dropped really early, probably saving some energy for the classics, which are his main target. Despite Arkea-Samsic’s efforts, Quintana did not attack nor did their last domestique Edet set a hard pace. Roglič was left with only Rohan Dennis, who did a great job controlling the pace. Dennis held a steady tempo on the climb and did not care when Guillaume Martin attacked, who already has lost 3 minutes in GC. Martin gained 15 seconds over the peloton doing 6,27 w/kg for 21:40 on Col de la Mure, while Roglič and other riders was pushing 6,11 w/kg for 21:55. Martin was later caught.
The most serious attempt to distance Roglic came from Dani Martinez. The Colombian attacked on the last climb of the day after Adam Yates had paced hard. INEOS in this way put pressure on Roglič, who was isolated after Dennis had been distanced. Surprisingly, Roglič did not need to do any work as other riders started to chase Martinez. The group exploded when Simon Yates counter attacked. It was interesting to see Joao Almeida helping chase Martinez as he had lost the ability to get a top GC result in the crosswind stages. Weird tactics, but perfect for Roglič, who saved some energy before the harder days that are incoming with many in the group acting as his domestique. The stage finished with a whimper, as all the big GC favourites finished together and Roglič became the new leader of Paris-Nice.
Stage 6 looks like another opportunity for a breakaway as many strong riders have lost a lot of time in GC after today and they will want to be in a breakaway. Jumbo-Visma do not need to pace this hilly stage as it is before the queen stage, although there are some concerns that the Col de Turini mountain top finish could be canceled due to weather. Like Padun in the Dauphiné last year, look for McNulty to go for back to back victories, in a stage that really suits a long range attack once again.