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Key Takeaways: Paris-Nice & Tirreno-Adriatico Final Weekend
Breaking down the reemergence of Slovenian stage racing dominance & what it means for the rest of the season
Programming Note: Due to an expected addition to the family, there will be no mid-week premium subscribers update. BTP will hopefully resume as scheduled on Friday with a brief Milano-Sanremo preview.
The 2023 cycling season continued its march towards bigger and more significant races this past weekend, with the Slovenian duo of Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič reminding everyone that their time as Grand Tour contenders is not over en route to multiple stage wins and overall titles at Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico. While it is too early in the season to declare anything, these performances, along with those from one-day Classics stars like Tom Pidcock, Mathieu van der Poel, and Wout van Aert, forecast what to expect as we get deeper into the season and into more prestigious events.
Below are the breakdowns of a few key moments, and what it all means going forward:
38.6km: Heading into the final 40km of the last GC stage, Jumbo has three riders around Roglič. This is an extremely strong situation for them and should allow them to control any potential attacks.
38.9km: However, Wout van Aert, clearly feeling better after his brief illness, increases the pace to the point that it shreds the race, including Jumbo’s team. After Tiesj Benoot is dropped and Wilco Kelderman crashes when the race is strung out, Roglic is suddenly down to just two teammates.
27.8km: This situation creates an opportunity for attacks. Guillaume Martin goes first and is closely followed by a strong group, including Alexander Vlasov, who is only 21 seconds off the race lead.
6km: Jumbo, down to just one domestique, struggles to control this gap, with Vlasov going into the virtual race lead and looking tougher and tougher to bring back. However, both Ineos and UAE come to the front to set a pace high enough to bring him back. This is in an effort to protect their 2nd and 3rd places in the GC, but has the effect of saving Roglic’s race lead.
400m: After João Almeida sets pace on the bottom of the climb, which only serves to help Roglic, the race leader accelerates slightly, which tricks Tao Geoghegan Hart and Enric Mas into coming to the front, which, in turn, gives him the perfect leadout.
50m: Roglic shows incredible patience by staying in the wheels until the final few meters when he appears to almost lazily overtake the others to take the stage and GC win.
1) Primoz Roglic +0
2) Tao Geoghegan Hart +0
3) João Almeida +0
Alpecin’s Jasper Philipsen gets another stage win off an incredible leadout from Mathieu van der Poel. Quickstep, despite doing loads of work to reel in a dangerous breakaway, isn’t able to contest the sprint due to Fabio Jakobsen losing the wheel of his leadout in the final few kilometers.
1) Jasper Philipsen +0
2) Dylan Groenewegen +0
3) Alberto Dainese +0
Final GC Standings
1) Primoz Roglic +0
2) Joao Almedina +18
3) Tao Geoghegan Hart +23
4) Lennard Kämna +34
5) Giulio Ciccone +37
1) Primož Roglič once again wins a stage race due to his ability to pick up time bonuses
The 33-year-old took an opportunity to remind everyone that while he might have been down and out due to crashes in 2022, he is still a top-tier stage racer.
Even more impressive than his raw fitness is that he was able to come into a race slightly unprepared (he hasn’t even shaved his legs yet) and dominate the GC with his race craft and ability to pick up time bonuses.
After a fairly pedestrian opening time trial where he lost time to João Almeida, he turned around and won three consecutive stages and racked up enough time bonuses to over Almeida, and wedge open a significant time gap to Tao Geoghegan Hart, despite never dropping him, with what appeared to be relative ease.
Even though he was dropped at times towards the end of stage 5, lost time in the TT, and was never able to create distance between himself and the other contenders, he was able to walk away with a healthy winning margin due to his ability to consistently win difficult stages, and take the ensuing uber-valuable time bonuses (this is also how he won the 2020 Vuelta).
2) The disjointed team tactics from his rivals gave Roglič a massive advantage
While Roglic was impressive, the tactics from the other teams were incredibly odd and helped him along the way.
For example, after Wout van Aert blew up the Jumbo team on the final stage, UAE and Ineos performed key work to neutralize Vlasov’s attack. If they had instead been on the attack with Vlasov, it would have been incredibly challenging for Roglic to win this race.
Enric Mas was also coaxed into the lead at inopportune points inside the final 500 meters on multiple uphill sprints, which inadvertently gave Roglic an ideal leadout.
3) This race reminded us that more is often not better when it comes to GC contenders within a team
The ‘help’ Roglic received shows just how strongly the dynamics of competition, even within a team, can override logic.
For example, Mas wanted to beat Yates, who wanted to beat his teammate Almedia, who wanted to beat Vlasov, who in turn wanted to beat his teammate Hindley.
This means they can’t simply think about the best strategy for beating Roglic, and instead, end up withholding teamwork that delivers Roglic his preferred scenario.
Something else to keep in mind is that in these early races, riders don’t want to work for teammates and give up potential leadership options down the line. In essence, they need to assert dominance over their teammates now in order to get leadership later down the line.
4) The Classics contenders sent mixed signals
Wout van Aert looked better and better as the race went on. His riding was key to Roglic’s win on Stage 6, and judging from the fact that his pace-setting was so hard that it destroyed his own team, he seems to be on a good fitness path.
But, the fact that he didn’t show particularly well in any of the sprint finishes makes it tough to predict how we will do if things come down to a sprint on Saturday at Sanremo.
Pidcock and Van der Poel didn’t look as convincing, and even if we assume they are slow-building towards the spring, things like Pidcock’s crashing out and Van der Poel’s inability to contest on the climbs, don’t bode well for their ability to contend for the win at next weekend’s Milano-Sanremo.
However, with weeks still remaining before Flanders and Roubaix, there is still time for them to get back on track before their main objectives.
5.8km: Despite a stiff headwind, Pogacar attacks when Jonas Vingegaard runs out of Jumbo teammates.
3.9km: However, he can’t get clean separation due to the headwind and is quickly joined by David Gaudu and Vingegaard.
2.3km: Gaudu shows an immense amount of confidence by attacking. He can’t shake Pogacar but Vingegaard is clearly not on the same level and loses contact.
Finish: The three riders come back together, but Pogacar is so strong that he is able to drop both and open a time gap on Gaudu as he coasts over the line for the stage win.
1) Tadej Pogacar +0
2) David Gaudu +2
3) Jonas Vingegaard +6
35.4km: Even though the onus should be on his competition to control the breakaway and attempt to rack up time bonuses, Pogacar’s UAE team sets a hard pace on the front in an effort to set Pogacar up for the stage win. Even though this strategy creates risks, the ease in which Pogacar takes the intermediate sprint time bonuses shows us just how strong he is and how hard it will be for any of the others to unseat him.
19.1km: At almost the exact same point where he put pressure on Roglic in last year’s race, Simon Yates gets to the front and increases the pace at the base of the Col d’Eze.
18.8km: Instead of pressuring Pogacar, this pace creates the perfect launchpad for him. Pogacar’s pace is so high that the others literally look like they are moving in slow motion behind him.
Finish: Pogacar reaches the top of the Col d’Eze nearly a minute faster than his competition (even with Matteo Jorgenson averaging close to 6.8 watts per kilo in the chase group). This massive gap allows him to glide down onto the Promenade des Anglais for a landslide stage and overall win.
Stage Top 3
1) Tadej Pogacar +0
2) Jonas Vingegaard +33
3) David Gaudu +33
1) Tadej Pogacar +0
2) David Gaudu +53
3) Simon Yates +1’39
4) Simon Yates +2’14
5) Gino Mader +2’56
5) Tadej Pogačar has left no doubt that he is the best rider in the world, but the risky tactics that cost him at the 2022 TdF are still lingering
With this performance, the 24-year-old has re-announced that he is currently the best rider in the sport and has come into 2023 even stronger after a humbling 2022 season.
There isn’t much to critique, or frankly, even say, about his performance; he stole time via bonus sprints in the early stages, overcome a massive personnel deficit in the TTT, dropped Vingegaard on the climbs, and was able to dump Gaudu to ride clear to stage wins whenever he wanted. There isn’t much to nitpick there.
However, his UAE team’s decision to pull back break on Stage 8, when they should have sat back and allowed them to eat up the time bonuses, which were realistically the only way for Gaudu to overtake him in the GC, was absurdly hubristic and could have potentially cost him the win (along with antagonizing the breakaway riders, who will be hesitant to give the team help later down the line).
On the flip side, while this extremely aggressive racing cost him at the 2022 Tour, it is fun to watch when it works.
It also set up Pogačar’s knockout punch on the Col d’Eze, which was so vicious and definitive that it will give him a mental advantage over his competition in future racings.
6) History suggests Jonas Vingegaard shouldn’t sweat this loss
The defending Tour de France champion was thoroughly beaten at every turn by his rival through the past week. However, this performance was in line with how Vingegaard progressed through last season, where he was also soundly beaten by Pogacar at Tirreno-Adriatico, finished 6th at the Tour of the Basque Country, and was beaten by his teammate Roglic at the Dauphine, before going on to win the Tour.
While Pogačar can get away with being at near-peak fitness year-round, this isn’t advisable for grand tour contenders, and it is likely that Jumbo and Vingegaard are satisified with where they are and planning yet another slow build towards July.
7) The young Americans are rising to the occasion
After great performances on the most difficult days, the young American duo of Neilson Powless and Matteo Jorgenson racked up impressive top 8 finishes in the overall standings.
For Jorgenson, this caps a run of extremely strong spring results that will likely land him a role as a protected rider for Movistar later in the season.
Judging by Jorgenson’s power files, which showed him averaging 444 watts for the 20-minute final climb on stage 8 (at roughly 65kgs), he should be able to confirm this designation by contending with the best riders on the toughest stages.