Nairo Quintana has had a strong start to the season, as we saw at Tour de la Provence and Tour des Alpes-Maritimes et du Var, where the Colombian destroyed his competition on both climbs and descents. However, Quintana is yet to test himself against some of the world’s strongest general classification riders.
This is set to change on the 6th of March at Paris-Nice where, according to the provisional startlist, Quintana will face some tough competition including Primož Roglič, Simon Yates, Adam Yates, Aleksandr Vlasov and Joao Almeida.
Quintana’s Performances in 2022
As shown in the graph below, this year Quintana has outperformed his competition on the climbs. His best performance is Col d’Eze (6.78 w/kg for 14:07 minutes) in Tour des Alpes Maritimes whereas Montagne de Lure (6.06 w/kg for 32:44) is his best 20+ minute climb.
The Montagne de Lure effort is more impressive than the average watts suggest, as the climb was paced asymmetrically, with a slower pace by FDJ’s Armirail until the last four kilometres, where Quintana stepped up the pace significantly to put enough time into Alaphilippe to win GC.
Quintana 2022 vs Roglič 2021
The favourite for Paris-Nice, and Quintana’s greatest threat, is Roglič. Interestingly, Quintana’s performances so far this year suggest that he is at a similar level to that of Roglič’s in 2021 in terms of peak watts per kg output. If Roglič performs in Paris-Nice at his 2021 level, Quintana will need some additional watts to drop the Slovenian and gain time against him on the mountain stages (which he will need to do, as he will lose time in the time trial).
In both the 2020 and 2021 editions of Paris-Nice, Valdeblore La Colmiane (16.12 km at 6.33 %) was the biggest climb. In 2020 Quintana won the mountain top finish, beating runner up Tiesj Benoot by 46 seconds. In 2021 it was Roglič’s turn to take the victory by catching Gino Mäder just before the finish line and breaking the Swiss rider’s heart in the process.
Quintana and Roglič performed similarly on Valdeblore La Colmiane in 2020 and 2021 respectively. Roglič’s time is better by 18 seconds, but Quintana pushed 0.02 w/kg more because he attacked with 3.8 km to go and did not draft as much as Roglič, who waited for the final kilometre of the stage to attack.
This suggests that in order for Quintana to drop Roglič in Paris-Nice, assuming that Roglič is in good condition, Quintana will need to put out more watts than what we have seen so far this year. The positive news for Quintana fans is that Quintana has likely not reached his peak career condition yet, which arguably was in February 2020 on Col d’Eze (7.5 w/kg for 9:25) and Chalet Reynard (6.67 w/kg for 28:12).
These were some of the best climbing performances in recent history, particularly the Chalet Reynard performance being almost unparalleled in the 21st century.
What to Expect in Paris-Nice?
Quintana will not contest the hilly one day race Faun-Ardèche Classic on 26 February, despite initial rumours that he would line up, in order to better prepare for Paris-Nice. By contrast, Roglič will start his race season at Faun-Ardèche Classic followed by Drome Classic on 27 February. This will provide us with some insight into Roglič’s form in the lead up to Paris-Nice, with both races featuring punchy climbs that should suit the Slovenian.
Stages 1 and 3 of Paris-Nice provide an opportunity to Roglič to take some bonus seconds if raced hard enough. However, it’s also possible that Jumbo-Visma will focus on supporting Wout van Aert’s ambitions during these stages, who is also lining up instead of racing at Tirreno-Adriatico like last year.
The primary threat to Roglič on this stage are fast finishers who can also get over some hills including Sonny Colbrelli, Bryan Coquard, Biniam Girmay, Ethan Hayter and his own teammate van Aert. Although Roglič is fast, his speed will be tested by such competition and it is a major boost for Quintana’s GC ambitions that Roglic might have to defer leadership in certain stages to van Aert.
To avoid a drag race to the finish, Roglič might seek to attack early on the 2-3 minute climbs and go solo in a style similar to Julian Alaphilippe. The Côté de Breuil-Bois-Robert (1.2 km at 6.9%) which is 5 km from the finish provides a perfect opportunity to attack.
Stage 2 is a flat sprint stage, while stage 3 finishes on a shallow hill of 2.1 km at 3.3% that probably is not steep enough for Roglič to attack or go against bigger sprinters while van Aert is in the group.
Quintana will definitely need to be on the offensive on the later stages with longer climbs because he will lose significant time against Roglič and other time-trial specialists on the hilly 13-kilometre ITT on stage 4. We expect Quintana to lose 30 to 50 seconds to Roglič in the rolling ITT, despite Quintana’s solid prologue performance in Tour de la Provence.
There are three stages where Quintana might launch an attack and gain some time on bigger climbs. Of course, as Quintana proved in Tour de la Provence stage 1, he can gain time on competitors in crosswind stages. There is a very high chance that we will see echelon action in Paris-Nice, which is one of the windiest races in the calendar and has ruined GC hopes in past years before the race has even reached the climbs in the South of France. Roglič is not great at positioning in echelons, but Jumbo-Visma will bring a classics squad including Wout van Aert, Nathan Van Hooydonck, Christophe Laporte, and Mike Teunissen. If Roglič stays on van Aert’s wheel then he should always be in the first echelon and even if he misses a split, he has the best squad to bring the race back together.
On stage 5 the rider’s face the Col de la Mure (7.7 km at 8.1%). The top of it is 30 km from the finish, but it is perfect for attacks and as Quintana showed in Alpes-Maritimes, he is not afraid to attack from far out. Later in the stage there is a shallower climb, where attacks are also possible on steeper parts.
Stage 7 is the queen stage and finishes on the mighty Col de Turini (15.2 km, 7.2%) which was also used in the 2019 edition of Paris-Nice. Daniel Felipe Martinez won that day from the breakaway, but Nairo Quintana and Egan Bernal were the fastest from the GC favorites.
They climbed Col de Turini in 40:45. Jack Haig finished 22 seconds later. According to his strava data, Haig on Col de Turini produced 392 watts for 41:07. That is 5.6 w/kg if we assume his weight was 70 kilograms. In 2022 Paris-Nice, the climbing record should be broken if there is not a very strong headwind and if Quintana needs to gain time on Roglic.
The last chance to get time back for Quintana will be on the last day. Stage 8 will end with Col d’Eze (6.1 km, 7.6%) after a short day of constant up and down. It is the different side from the 2020 and 2022 Col d’Eze versions used in Tour des Alpes Maritimes, where Quintana performed at a very high level. This side is even steeper. In the first half of the climb there is a 1.3 km and 11.5% steep section which is perfect for an attack.
Unfortunately for Quintana it will be extremely hard to isolate Roglič, who will have Wout van Aert, Steven Kruijswijk and Rohan Dennis as climbing domestiques, while Quintana’s mountain support squad will include Simon Guglielmi, Matis Louvel, and Łukasz Owsian, without the invaluable Maxime Bouet and Nicolas Edet who have helped Quintana in previous weeks. Even if Quintana drops Roglič on Col d’Eze (or another climb), the Slovenian can use his domestiques to pace back Quintana. If Roglič performs at his 2021 level, then the only way he can lose against Quintana is if he repeats something similar to Paris-Nice stage 8, which is possible given how tricky the final stage is once again.
His 2022 supporting cast will be considerably stronger than last year, so even if Roglič has some mishaps throughout Paris-Nice, there is no one better than Wout van Aert to rescue him. Of course, Roglic is not the only man to beat, and with Simon Yates, Aleksandr Vlasov and Adam Yates already looking in top shape this year, Quintana even reaching the podium of this race will be perhaps his best ever one week performance since he joined Arkea-Samsic.