Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar going head to head this early in the season, after the amazing 2022 Tour de France, is a dream come true for cycling fans. Both the Tour de France champions performed exceptionally well in Spanish races in February, achieving a combined 9 wins in just 9 race days.
Provisional Start List
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The opening stage will be for sprinters who can get over small hills. A hilly route with 0.5 km at 11.6% and 1.5 km at 4.7% climbs are no joke in the last 21 kilometres. Mads Pedersen and Arnaud De Lie will be favourites as they are both great climbers for fast guys. Lotto-DSTNY and Trek-Segafredo will likely go all-in for their sprint leaders on this day and pace the hills as hard as possible. It will be around 6-8 Celsius but the wind will not be blowing fast and crosswinds should not be forming on Stage 1. Even if Tim Merlier and Sam Bennett do survive the punchy hills, their legs will not be as fresh as De Lie and Pedersen at the finish. Alexandre Kristoff, Olav Kooij, Arnaud Demare, Kaden Groves, Jonathan Milan and Bryan Coquard are other strong sprinters on the start list.
The flattest stage of Paris-Nice. Tim Merlier might be the favourite to win as Soudal Quick-Step has sent a strong team for flat stages with Lampaert, Schmid, Asgreen, Declercq, Cavagna and Senechal. The Belgian champion won two sprint stages in the UAE Tour against probably the strongest sprinters line-up in a World Tour race and if there are crosswinds, the Wolfpack will make sure to take advantage of them.
Stage 3 TTT
The 32-kilometre team time trial is a perfect gift for Jumbo-Visma and Jonas Vingegaard. The Dutch team in the provisional start list have listed some strong ITT specialists, such as Rohan Dennis, Jan Tratnik, Edoardo Affini and the reigning World ITT Champion Tobias Foss. Jumbo-Visma might gain over a minute against many teams, including even Pogačar and UAE-Team Emirates. It is a pancake flat route and will suit more teams with bigger riders like Jumbo-Visma and Quick Step.
The curiosity of this TTT is that the organisers decided that the team’s time will be taken from the fastest rider. Usually the clock stops after the fourth rider but these new rules might make the racing more interesting and we could see some different tactics on display across the teams. Of particular interest is how teams with strong GC contenders but also strong TT squads, such as Jumbo-Visma, Jayco AlUla (Simon Yates) and INEOS (Dani Martinez), approach this TTT.
The first mountain stage with a finish of 6.8 km at 7.0% gradient. The stage before La Loge Des Gardes will not be particularly hard and with low kilojoules the gaps might not be big. It is a good climb for Tadej Pogačar who will definitely try to gain at least 10 bonus seconds at the finish line and attack to test Jonas Vingegaard who performed exceptionally well on 7% climbs in O Gran Camiño a week ago.
This might be the first breakaway stage. The climbs at the start will be perfect for the formation of a strong break and it seems like the perfect opportunity for a specialist like Magnus Cort. Arnaud De Lie, Michael Matthews, Fred Wright and Mads Pedersen type sprinters might even want to get into the break rather than have their teams control for 213km, as they can definitely climb fast up short and shallow 4.7% and 4.8% climbs in the final 65km.
Possibly another stage for a breakaway. A Lennard Kämna style day but the German will be racing Tirreno-Adriatico – perhaps Thomas de Gendt will try on this stage. The 2 km at 9.7% with 30km remaining might be hard enough to see attacks from Pogačar and other GC riders but as the last 21 kilometres are going down a shallow descent everyone might be saving their legs for the Queen stage on following day.
Every climber will be waiting for the Col de la Couillole (15.8 km, 7.3%) climb. With a fairly easy parcours and only 127.8 kilometres before it, we might see a huge watts on this giant.
There are no steep sections on Couillole and it is remarkably regular with the 1 kilometre segments varying from 6.5 to 8.4% gradients. Jumbo-Visma has not sent a strong climbing team but Jonas Vingegaard with his O Gran Camiño legs probably will not need it. If Pogačar is behind on GC after the TTT then he definitely will try and attack with UAE-Emirates sending this climb full-gas as they have Tim Wellens, Domen Novak, Mikkel Bjerg and Felix Großschartner. Simon Yates and Dani Martinez both performed well on Col de Turini last year in Paris-Nice, losing only to Roglič on the long climb at the end after the Slovenian burned them with his trademark acceleration close to the finish. Matteo Jorgenson and Jack Haig who are both tall steady climbers will love this climb.
The climbing record is owned by Richie Porte who set it in Paris-Nice 2017, beating Alberto Contador by 21 seconds. 6.15 ᵉW/Kg for 41:51 min is a strong effort but with Pogačar and Vingegaard on the start list in good shape, if the pace will be even moderate then the record should fall.
Paris-Nice will end with a very short but intensive final day. For the second year in a row Col d’Eze (6.1 km, 7.6%) will be used from the same side with a 2km 10.7% wall around 20km to go.
In 2022 Jumbo-Visma for no reason decided to pace very hard on Stage 8 which created a leading five-man group with Roglič, Van Aert, S. Yates, Quintana and Martinez (who later punctured and dropped out of the first group). Yates on the the steep section of Col d’Eze accelerated and soloed to a victory, while Roglič was saved by Van Aert’s draft on the shallow downhill to Nice. More about this stage here.
There is a good chance of rain in Nice and the later stages. Pogačar excels in wet or cold conditions as he showed in the Queen stage of Tirreno Adriatico. Apart from Jan Tratnik, Vingegaard’s squad is not well suited to defending on this stage, unless Foss has improved since the Tour of Algarve. Vingegaard may have no teammates in the final but it will be a hard task for Pogačar to drop the Dane, as we saw in the final week of the 2022 Tour de France.
When the GC markets opened Vingegaard was favoured over Pogačar but the public seem to disagree, as the odds have moved in favour of the Slovene. Pogačar might gain more bonus seconds than Vingegaard but it will be hard to gain real time in the mountains as they both will arrive in great shape for March. In contrast, Vingegaard has a good team for any crosswinds and Jumbo-Visma are expected to dominate the 32 km TTT, for which UAE-Emirates has not sent a very strong squad.
Pogačar won three stages and GC in Vuelta a Andalucia and opened his season with a long solo win in Jaen Paraiso Interior. Meanwhile, Vingegaard dominated against a weaker GC field in O Gran Camiño, destroying everyone on short climbs and in the time-trial. Pogačar’s performance on Despiernacaballos in Andalucia was not that high on the w/kg curve as they had spent 4000 kilojoules before the decisive climb and the climb was still far from the finish. Vingegaard in Galicia did two huge climbing efforts both on shorter climbs, proving that he can push high watts in colder conditions even in February (albeit after easier stages than occurred in Andalucia). If the Dane arrives with these legs, it will be extremely difficult to drop him on such steady climbs where drafting is a huge advantage – this is why an incumbent GC lead from the TTT is so important for the latter half of the race. Even Pogačar’s Prati di Tivo level is not going to do the job.
Matteo Jorgenson will be the only GC rider present who pushed high w/kg in Tour of Oman - curiously Quickstep have brought no GC contender as Vansevenant is doing neither Tirreno or Paris-Nice according to PCS. The American finished 8th in Paris-Nice 2021 and should perform well on Couillole and La Loge des Gardes but the fact that he is riding for Movistar and there is a 32-kilometre flat TTT will hurt his GC chances. Without it he would have been a strong candidate for the podium.
Dani Martinez was great in the early 2022 season and if not for the unlucky puncture in the final stage of the 2022 Paris-Nice he might have even toppled Roglic as the GC winner if he could have helped Yates. Martinez won Volta ao Algarve thanks to his time-trial abilities, beating the World Champion Foss by 13 seconds. INEOS will do a good TTT and he is one of the riders who might surprise and win overall, just like he did in Portugal last month.
The same situation applies to Simon Philip Yates. Jayco-AlUla will definitely do great in the TTT and, as the Briton proved in 2022, he can perform in Paris-Nice. If Pogačar and Vingegaard will be watching each other too much Yates with diamonds in his legs is a good candidate for an upset.
David Gaudu, Neilson Powless, Mattias Skjelmose, Romain Bardet and Kevin Vauquelin will be other GC riders to look for as they will fight for the spots in the Top 10. Powless, Skjelmose and Vauquelin all performed great in the early French races in Besseges and Alpes Maritimes. Gaudu and Bardet finished 7th and 8th in Alpes Maritimes. Gaudu showed good form in Faun Ardeche Classic where he lost in the final sprint to Julian Alaphilippe and on the next day was 4th in Faun Drôme Classic.
I'm a w/kg purist and will pick Jonas Vingegaard. Watts are watts and I do not care that Ruben Guerreiro was his biggest rival in Galicia. I would have picked Jonas even without the 32 km TTT and believe he will do multiple huge performances in this race. He has a strong Jumbo-Visma team for flat/hilly stages and crosswinds. It might be raining and Pogačar gains watts in wet conditions but Vingegaard is from Denmark and performed well in cold conditions a week ago. He should be good also in rain and snow storms. After this race Vingegaard will become the favourite to win the Tour de France in betting markets where Pogačar is still in the slight lead. Jumbo-Visma has not sent a strong climbing team, instead focussing on the first half of the race, but who needs domestiques in the mountains when you have Vingegaard's legs.
Kārlis Ozols (@CyclingGraphs)