Once again, Primož Roglič almost lost a World Tour stage race in France on the last decisive day. Luckily for him, his Jumbo-Visma teammate, Wout Van Aert, was there to save him after Simon Yates dropped everyone on the Col d’Eze climb and threatened Roglič’s 40 second GC lead in Paris-Nice stage 8. Unlike last year, this time it ended happily for Roglič, who closed the gap to Yates on the final descent to preserve the win.
It was a short but hard 115 kilometre medium mountain day. Rainy and cold, which is typical weather in Paris-Nice during early Spring, despite it being called the race to the sun. 154 riders started the race up in Paris and only 88 lined up for the last stage here in Nice. It was a hard stage from the beginning. Riders started to attack from the peloton, but Jumbo-Visma controlled everything and surprisingly did not let a breakaway form the whole stage.
INEOS chose to race aggressively as Daniel Martinez was 3rd in the GC around a minute behind Roglic. The Spanish champion Omar Fraile, who performs well on cold and wet days, did a hard pull on the Cote de Peille (6.6 km, 6.9%) climb, thinning down the peloton to only a few men with 50 km to go.
After Fraile was finished, Martinez with 3 km to go from the crest attacked. Only the strongest riders could follow the Colombian’s attack, Nairo Quintana, Primož Roglič, Wout Van Aert and Simon Yates. Van Aert pulled the five man group all the way to the top of the climb, building an impressive lead over the group with Haig and Adam Yates behind, whilst also preventing attacks from the other GC threats. Although Jumbo-Visma did not need to make the race harder or gain time, it was clear that they had decided Wout van Aert would need to race 100% as a domestique today for the entire stage, after he had not pushed hard in the previous stages on the climbs.
It was not Martinez’s lucky day as he punctured on the descent and lost almost a minute to the group, despite having strong legs on the climbs.
He rode on his own behind van Aert on the descent, unable to make an impression on the gap, and eventually was caught by the chasers where Fred Wright of Bahrain Victorious was pacing for Haig. Wout Van Aert was pulling all the time and he stopped to pull only until the start of Col d’Eze (6.1 km, 7.6%), the last climb of the race. Quintana and Yates accelerated on the climb immediately to shed van Aert from the group so they could put an isolated Roglič under pressure. Quintana could not drop anyone with his accelerations, but continued to pace as he had a chance to podium Paris-Nice as Martinez was way back in the second group with a 1 minute lead on GC.
Later, Yates attacked on the steep 13% section and distanced everyone. Roglič was struggling as he was sitting on Quintana’s wheel and could not respond to Yates, who was 47 seconds back to Roglič in the GC before the stage. If Roglič would have felt good, he would have almost certainly followed Yates with his trademark surge. This was the first big sign of weakness from Roglič but Luckily for him, Wout Van Aert was still hanging close to him riding a steady tempo on the climb.
To win the GC Yates needed at least a 40-second gap between him and Roglič. Yates gained 3 bonus seconds earlier from the intermediate sprint and would gain 10 seconds from the win, while Roglič likely was going to finish second and gain 6 seconds.
Unfortunately for Yates, Van Aert was strong and pulled Roglič as hard as he could at the end of the Col d’Eze, dropping Quintana and continuing to pace for Roglic on the descent. Whilst Yates had some advantage over Roglic it seemed on the technical and wet sections of the descent into Nice, it was a false flat run in to the finish where the brute power of van Aert was an advantage over the slender Briton.
Yates 25-second lead after the climb began to come down, and whilst Roglič was looking completely empty, he had the privilege to draft behind the Belgian champion, with the 40 seconds required for Yates to win GC looking out of reach in the last 10 kilometres. Despite a massive scare for Jumbo-Visma, Yates did not win take enough time to win GC, as Roglič and Van Aert finished nine seconds back, but at least he took a well deserved consolidation prize in the form of a stage win.
After the finish, Roglič looked like he had seen a ghost. Last year he lost Paris-Nice on the last stage due to a badly timed crash, but that day he did not have Van Aert, who was racing in Tirreno-Adriatico. Without Wout he would have lost this race again. It was a really impressive performance from the big Belgian, who did not go full-gas on the previous mountain stages and saved some energy. Unfortunately for Yates, Martinez punctured earlier. With Martinez’s help, he probably would have gained the time he needed on the climb, but this was Roglič’s lucky day.
The top 6 in the GC did not change as Quintana was caught by the second group with Martinez and the other GC riders. Only 59 riders finished Paris-Nice, which is only 38.3% from the 154 riders who started. Aleksandr Vlasov did not finish the stage and lost 7th place in the GC, while Latour dropped out of Top 10 and in the end was 14th.
Yates gained 470 UCI points for BikeExchange – Jayco, who have a decent chance of getting relegated, but thanks to Yates their chances to stay in the World Tour look good. Ion Izagirre and Guillaume Martin finished 7th and 9th, getting 250 points for Cofidis. Arkea-Samsic with Quintana in the top and stacking UCI points in non-World Tour one-day races look reasonably safe to avoid relegation as the season continues.