Ten Takeaways: Primož Roglič Stumbles, Wout van Aert Saves the Day & Tadej Pogačar Dominates
Breaking down the biggest takeaways from the final weekend of Paris-Nice & Tirreno-Adriatico
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The dueling one-week WorldTour stage races, Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, wrapped up on Sunday and between the two races, we got a look at nearly every top rider in the sport before the one-day Monuments start in earnest this coming Saturday with Milano-Sanremo.
Primož Roglič settled some unfinished business by taking the overall victory at Paris-Nice after his teammate Wout van Aert saved the day after a late attack Simon Yates threatened to leave him heart-broken for a second consecutive year, while Tadej Pogačar backed up his stunning Strade-Bianche solo win by rolling through the general classification competition at Tirreno-Adriatico with such ease that the other two podium finishers, Jonas Vingegaard and Mikel Landa, finished minutes behind after a week of racing with only a handful of opportunities for riders to wedge out time gains.
On the surface, the two races gave us yet another signal of how far the sport has fallen into the clutches of the Slovenian duo of Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar, but these wins weren’t created equal and Paris-Nice potentially left as many questions concerning Roglič and his Jumbo superteam than it answered.
Paris-Nice Stage 8
52km: With a lot of kilometers left to race, Jumbo has massed on the front and is turning the screws on the field. There is no breakaway up the road and they have whittled the lead group down to a select group of mostly GC riders.
48.8km: Shortly after, Ineos comes to the front and Dani Martinez, sitting in 3rd place overall a 1’00 behind Roglič attacks. We see Nairo Quintana and Wout van Aert (in green) respond immediately.
48.5km: Van Aert has shut down the move while Adam Yates, sitting in 4th place overall, is dropped by the attack and response. Only the five strongest riders in the race remain with a lot of racing left to go. With a group this small, essentially anything can happen, which highlights the massive risk Jumbo took by keeping the pace so high and shedding the peloton.
34.6km: Oddly, Van Aert stays on the front and drives the pace in the small group, despite the onus being on the others to put time into the dropped riders. This allows Simon Yates to jump the Jumbo duo and take a three-second time bonus to cut his deficit to Roglič down to 44-seconds with the difficult climb of Col d'Èze remaining.
19.2km: After a Dani Martinez flat tire, a few near-crashes for Roglič on the run-in to the climb, and a few probing Quintana attacks, Simon Yates accelerates on an extremely steep pitch 4km from the summit. Roglič is likely cracked but he smartly doesn’t respond, and instead keeps his pace steady and waits for Van Aert.
17.9km: This lack of response allows Van Aert to stay in the group and get to the front to set a blistering pace in pursuit of Yates. He is riding so hard that he is dropping Roglič and Quintana, both highly elite climbers, at times.
16.7km: After Quintana is eventually dropped, all Roglič can do is tuck into Van Aert’s wheel. Roglič is clearly on the limit, and at points looks completely cracked, but we can see that Yates’ gap is still holding steady at 24-seconds and the duo has put 40-seconds into the chasing Martinez group since starting the climb.
15km: Van Aert and Roglic cross the summit of the Col d'Èze 25-seconds behind Yates and 1’28 ahead of the chasing Martinez group.
8.8km: Once up and over the top, the Jumbo duo had the advantage over the solo Yates and started reducing his gap at a rapid pace. At times, it looks like they will reel him in and give Van Aert one of the most impressive wins of his career.
Finish: However, Yates starts getting serious lead camera moto draft with around 5km to go and Van Aert/Roglic can’t get the gap under 5-seconds.
Primož Roglič +0
Simon Yates +29
Daniel Martínez +2’37
1) Roglič appeared to crack, but the reality is more complex
After ‘cracking,’ he put over a minute into the large chase group on the Col d'Èze and held Simon Yates to 25-seconds to a flying Simon Yates while pushing roughly 6.4 watts per kilo (420 watts) for the 16’51-long final climb, which is roughly equal to Pogačar’s performance to win stage 6 at Tirreno.
And after the initial surge from his attack, Yates didn’t actually pull out anytime on Roglič. If he was truly cracked, this wouldn’t have been possible.
Having said that, he appeared to be a fundamentally different rider than when he appeared impervious the day prior on stage 7. And once again struggling in the late kilometers stage race won’t assuage the narrative that Roglič is vulnerable towards the ends of stage races (see: 2020 Tour de France).
And while the actual physical data tells a more nuanced story, there does appear to be something to this. After faltering on the last racing day of the 2020 Tour de France and 2021 Paris-Nice, this is becoming an undeniable, if not somewhat inconsistent, trend.
2) Wout van Aert is pure class
Roglič owes his overall win to Van Aert’s ability to set pace for nearly the entire final 50kms of the stage, hold Simon Yates’ (whom he outweighs by 30kgs) attack at bay on the steep Col d'Èze and then rip down the descent to calmy reel Yates back in, all while pacing the race leader.
Tadej Pogačar might technically be ‘fitter’ at the moment, but nobody else in the world, not even Pogačar, could have covered all the performance bases that Van Aert did over the course of Paris-Nice.
And the personal component of this can’t be overstated. It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine another rider of Van Aert’s caliber and starpower dedicating so much to another rider’s victory.
Also, Roglič won the overall title by 29-seconds, which is only a single second more than he gained on the opening stage due to Van Aert’s ability to pace him off the front in the final stages of what should have been a sprint affair.
After watching Van Aert masterfully modulate his efforts between soft-pedaling and single-handedly controlling the race all week, he has to be considered the top favorite for Saturday’s Milano-Sanremo.
3) Jumbo-Visma won the race with an uneven team performance that was riddled with unforced errors
After ripping the race apart in the early stages, Jumbo appeared to fade in the final few stages, often leaving Roglič isolated and vulnerable to attack.
And without Van Aert’s heroics on the final stage, Roglič would likely have lost the overall title after being attacked by an elite group that Jumbo created with their own pacesetting. It still isn’t completely clear to me why they wanted the final stage to be so selective when all they needed to do was get Roglič to the finish line within 47-seconds of Simon Yates. One would imagine this would be much easier with a larger selection of teammates.
One potential reason could have been that they wanted to control the breakaway so that they could ride for a Wout van Aert stage win. If this is true, it mirrors their hubris on stage 1, when they gifted the stage win to Christophe Laporte, which cost Roglič four bonus seconds. While this seemed insignificant at the time, it easily could have been less than Yates’ winning margin had Van Aert not been able to stay with Roglič on the final stage.
4) Simon Yates is on the form of his life and should be the favorite for the Giro d’Italia
His career-best time trial performance on stage 4 to keep him within striking distance of Roglič set up his potential race-winning attack on stage 8.
To illustrate just how impressive his ride was, if we remove stage 1, he only lost a single second to Roglič.
It is also worth noting that he appeared to be the only rider in the lead group dressed appropriately on stage 8. Staying warm with his waterproof gloves and thermal clothing potentially helped him drive open his gap when he attacked late in the race.
Judging from what we’ve seen so far this year, Yates should be considered the top GC contender for the upcoming Giro d’Italia.
5) Dani Martínez proved he is a legitimate GC threat for Ineos
With this third place overall, Martínez gets only the second GC overall podium of his career. And if not for the flat tire that jettisoned him from the front group before the final climb, he would have had a legitimate chance of overall victory.
While his Ineos has appeared to struggle to pick a single leader and ride cohesively over the past few years, his teammate Adam Yates appeared willing to sacrifice his podium changes on stages 7 & 8 for a potential Martínez win.
This shows there is at least some buy-in for Martínez as a GC contender at the British team. And with good reason since Martínez proved all week that he has what it takes to hang with the best GC contenders in the peloton (sans Pogačar).
6) Adam Yates might not be a viable option for Ineos’ Tour de France leadership strategy
While I thought the team was going all-in for Adam Yates at the Tour de France after they doubled down on their decision to send Richard Carapaz to the Giro and spending considerable resources overhauling Yates’ TT position, but after this week, the gulf between him and his twin brother Simon has never appeared larger.
Ineos has had high hopes for Adam, but after a week that saw him drubbed by Roglič, Simon, and his teammate Martínez, they will likely start to pivot away from the 29-year-old rider. After all, the lack of a single grand tour podium overall finish or stage win should be an indication that he simply isn’t at the level to lead such a large team for a Tour de France title.
7) Nairo Quintana has already lost ground on the fitness curve after his annual Flying February
His performance on Saturday at Paris-Nice over the Col de Turini yesterday was 6 watts per kilo for 40 minutes, compared to 6 watts per kilo for 33 minutes when he rode away from the field back in February at the Tour de la Provence.
This shows that while he appears to regress physically, he actually remains constant and only regresses relative to his competition.
An important takeaway from the final stage was Quintana relentlessly attacking on the base of the Col d'Èze in an effort to win the overall instead of simply sitting in and going to the finish line with the lead group to take an overall podium. These attacks hurt Roglic, but also likely cost Quintana a shot at the podium. This shows us that Quintana has no use for lower placings at this point in his career and as such, will be a massive wildcard at the 2022 Tour de France.
Tirreno-Adriatico Stage 6
34km: Tadej Pogačar is burning what is left of his UAE team by having Rafał Majka empty the tank by cranking up the pace a long way from the finish line on the penultimate climb. While this potentially leaves Pogačar isolated and, at least in theory, vulnerable, the effort is well worth it since it is already distancing second-place overall Remco Evenepoel on the steep climb.
16km: After letting Mikel Landa set a grueling pace that tires out everyone in the lead group, Pogačar counter-attacks and immediately leaves the other contenders in his dust.
15.2km: In less than a kilometer, Pogačar has pulled out 24-seconds on his GC rivals. While they squabble about who will set pace to chase him down, he is riding away with the win.
12.8km: Meanwhile, the rider who was supposed to challenge Pogačar, Remco Evenepoel, is over three minutes off the back and clearly struggling on the sustained climbs.
11.9km: The brutality of the attack is made clear when he reaches the top of the final climb just 3kms later, he has pulled out a staggering minute and a half on the main GC contenders. This shows that while Pogačar was isolated, he was not anywhere near vulnerable.
Stage Top Five
Tadej Pogačar +0
Jonas Vingegaard +1’03
Mikel Landa +1’03
Richie Porte +1’34
Damiano Caruso +1’49
Tadej Pogačar +0
Jonas Vingegaard +1’52
Mikel Landa +2’33
8) Tadej Pogačar is unstoppable at the moment but isn’t even at his peak fitness
His dominating run over the past week is absolutely incredible. He is showing an ability to not only beat the others but crush any hope of them ever beating him in the future.
But, what should frighten the rest of the peloton is that he isn’t even at his best. He put out 6.50 watts per kilo for 19’29 to climb the Carpegna on Saturday, which, while better than almost anyone else in the peloton can do, is still off the 7 watts per kilo he can do in his Tour de France form.
At this point, it is debatable if other contenders should even attempt to race to beat him, or simply ride for second place and hope he suffers a crash when we get to the Tour de France.
And not only is he winning, but he is putting massive chunks of time into chase groups quicker than I’ve seen in the modern era of the sport.
At only 23-years-old, his career Palmares are getting difficult to comprehend
37 career wins (equal to Julian Alaphilippe), with more than 76% of those wins coming in WorldTour races.
Won 8 of his last 9 stage races he's started
Has been in the top 10 in 15 out of his last 16 stage races
He's never failed to finish a stage race in any category (has started 36)
Saturday’s Milano-Sanremo doesn’t suit him, but with his current form and absurdly good bike handling skills, he has to be considered a contender.
9) Remco Evenepoel faltered in his quest to become a legitimate GC contender and we still don’t know what type of rider he is
The Belgian rocket is an incredibly talented time trialist and solo attacker, but just like last year’s Giro d’Italia, he struggled on long, steep mountain ascents. By the end of stage 6, he had lost over four minutes on Pogačar and dropped out of the GC hunt entirely.
These struggles on ‘real’ climbs should raise questions about his ability to contend for the GC in grand tours. And while some pundits will insist that he is simply too young for such efforts, remember that he is only a year younger than Pogačar.
His struggles on steep climbs are especially curious since he is extremely light and according to his time trial results, is capable of generating a large number of watts for a sustained period of time. The issue could be anything from a mental block, or that he relies so much on his naturally aero position on the bike and this advantage is nullified when everyone is traveling at slower speeds on climbs.
10) Jonas Vingegaard is solidifying his role as a GC leader
After his somewhat out-of-the-blue second overall at the 2021 Tour de France, Vingegaard is once again positioned to finish best of the rest behind Pogačar. This is a big step for a relatively unproven leader on a team as deep as Jumbo-Visma.
And the 1’52 gap to Pogačar over such a short race seems absurd, but adjusting for his dominance, this is actually a very good result.