Pogačar Successfully Defends On La Couillole | Paris-Nice Stage 7 2023

Col de la Couillole – France cycling – Tadej Pogacar (SLO – UAE Team Emirates) pictured during stage 7 of the 81th edition of the Paris – Nice cycling race, a stage of 197,5km with start in Nice and Col de la Couillole (142.9km) on March 11, 2023 in Col de la Couillole, France, Photo: Luca Bettini/SCA/Cor Vos © 2023

Tadej Pogačar won his second mountain top finish in the 2023 edition of Paris-Nice, with a convincing effort up Col de la Couillole. David Gaudu and Jonas Vingegaard tested the Slovenian’s legs but they failed to distance the dual Tour de France champion, who won the uphill sprint in customary fashion.

Paris-Nice Stage 7 2023 profile by La Flamme Rouge

The long Col de la Couillole climb (15.9 km, 7.4%) suited Pogačar well as there were no steep sections and it would be hard for lighter riders like Vingegaard and Gaudu to drop him as the impact of drafting is huge on 7-8% gradients.

Neilson Powless spent 2801 kilojoules before the climb and 13.25 kj/kg/h for 3 hours and 12 minutes. Very close to the 3 hours and 3000 kilojoules mark which is a commonly used threshold in training to see how well riders can perform after fatigue.

Tobias Foss did a good effort in pacing up the Col de la Couillole climb for his teammate Jonas Vingegaard. The time-trial world champion managed to set the tempo until 6.4 km to go when Chris Harper attacked as the tempo was too slow and there were still around 15 riders in the bunch.

Tobias Foss pacing up Couillole

It was a headwind up Couillole (the red sections are for headwind, purple – cross headwind). This influenced the climbing time and tempo as most of the teams were short on climbing domestiques and it is harder to create separation in a headwind with the increased drafting benefit.

Couillole wind map

After Harper’s attack, Vingegaard chose to accelerate and close the gap to the Australian and test Pogačar’s legs. The UAE-Emirates star responded with an attack once Vingegaard sat back down, putting the Dane under pressure.

Pogačar attacking

Vingegaard had to close the gap to Pogačar mostly on his own, with Gaudu, Jorgenson, Bardet and Sivakov sitting in his wheel. Eventually all but Gaudu were dropped from the chase group, with the Frenchman eventually pulling with Vingegaard to close the race leader Pogačar.

With 2.3 km to go Gaudu tried to attack as he was only 6 seconds back to Pogačar on GC and did not stand a chance against the Slovene in a straight up sprint. Vingegaard dropped but did not crack like on Loge des Gardes, while Pogačar was standing strong and defended well against attacks. In the final sprint, Pogačar was convincing and won with a 2-second gap over Gaudu and 6 seconds over Vingegaard, aptly defending the yellow jersey.

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The pace was not too high from the bottom as Foss paced for a long time and there was not a strong team to pace the first 10 kilometres of the climb. 5.86 ᵉw/kg from David Gaudu for 43:54 minutes and 5.85 ᵉw/kg for Vingegaard and Pogačar as there are differences due to drafting. It is still a good effort and above the green Grand Tour Top 10 trendline but slower by 2 minutes and 3 seconds than Richie Porte’s time set in 2017. The pace and time were slower also due to the headwind.

It is the longest climb so far in 2023 which was used as a mountain top finish in a high-level race. The performance is good but in Tour de France the watts on 40+ minute climbs will be way higher compared to these performances in March.

The final stage will be exciting with multiple mountains and Col d'Eze in the final 20 kilometres. It will be hard for Gaudu and Vingegaard to drop Pogačar as he is consistent and strong but the 1.9km, 10.7% section of Eze is one of the steepest moments of the whole week, a perfect spot for an attack.

Paris-Nice 2023 Stage 8 profile by La Flamme Rouge
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