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Tirreno-Adriatico/Paris-Nice Notebook: Breaking Down An Absurdly Exciting Weekend of Racing
Roglic stumbles right before the finish line at Paris-Nice while Van der Poel and Pogacar dazzle at Tirreno-Adriatico
This past weekend of racing treated cycling fans to some of the most exciting early-season menus of racing in modern memory. The dueling week-long stage races, Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice, didn’t produce a dull moment, with Primoz Roglic losing Paris-Nice on the final stage in fantastic fashion due to a series of crashes. Across the Alps in Italy, Tadej Pogacar extended his GC lead on Wout van Aert as Mathieu van der Poel dazzled with a 50km-long solo breakaway on Sunday’s Stage 5.
Paris-Nice Stage 7 Notes:
15km: Ineos has Rohan Dennis behind Bora at the front of the peloton as the riders they put in the early breakaway are being passed after being dropped. Interesting strategy from them but the execution leaves something to be desired.
13km: Cofidis takes over at the front of the peloton for Guillaume Martin. Jumbo-Visma looks to be back to their 2020 selves, with three riders surrounding Primoz Roglic.
4km: Roglic signals to his remaining teammates that he wants to go for the stage win, despite the last-man-standing from the breakaway, Gino Mäder, having 37-seconds on the chasers and looking strong. But George Bennett from Jumbo takes over at the front after not being impressed with the pace from Luis Leon Sanchez to attempt to nail him back.
2km: After Bennett is dropped, Roglic tells Steven Kruijswijk, who up until now has been sitting a bit far back in the peloton, to get to the front and drill it.
1.6km: Kruijswijk doesn’t seem to last as long as Roglic expected and once the Dutchman is dropped, it leaves Roglic in a tricky position. His team has now left him isolated and surrounded by rivals and the breakaway is still 20-seconds up the road.
For a moment, Roglic seems to forget the inherent danger in this situation and goes to the front to drill Mader back, but then remembers it isn’t his job to put himself under pressure and sits up and goes to the back of the group so he can keep an eye on any potential attackers.
1km: Tiesj Benoot attacks and this is enough of an excuse for Roglic to go thermonuclear in an attempt to win the stage.
800m: Roglic is caught by Max Schachmann, who makes an impressive move to pull him back, and Roglic slots in behind him, seemingly content to let Mader ride up the road and sprint Schachmann for the second-place time bonus.
300m: The rest of the front group has pulled themselves back up, and just as things slow down, Roglic launches a devastating attack and mows down a fading Mader right before the line. This is an absurdly impressive and devastating move. Also, it looks like Mader might flip Roglic off as he crosses the finish line.
Paris Nice Stage 8 Notes:
67km: 25-kilometers into the 92km stage (which must be the shortest professional race I’ve ever seen), Roglic crashes and dislocates his shoulder. The only way he could lose the overall on this stage is the exact scenario.
25km: Even with the crash and dislocated shoulder, Roglic is still the leader of the race on the road, but he crashes again as Schachmann’s Bora team increases the pace to drop him.
24km: Roglic is only a few meters behind this front group, but his teammates don’t appear to notice and nobody drops back to help him close the gap.
21km: Roglic finally has two Jumbo teammates with him. It is too late to close the gap to the front group but they have been able to keep him close enough to Schachmann to keep the race lead.
16km: Roglic is now without teammates as Schachmann is able to draft in the reduced peloton that is flying through the picturesque canyons around Nice. He still needs to take 10-seconds on Roglic to win the overall, but with this much distance left on roads that favor a group over a single rider, he certainly has the race wrapped up.
400m: EF’s Magnus Cort uses some sharp elbows to get to the front on a tricky, fast, downhill finish. This is smart and proves to be the deciding factor. Nobody else seems to know the finish, which was just announced yesterday, quite as well.
Finish: Court essentially leads himself out on the fast finish and holds on a surging Christophe Laporte, who appears to stop pedaling and start his bike-throw much too early. Schachmann seals up his second-consecutive overall win as Roglic slips down to 15-position after losing over 3 minutes.
Max Schachmann: +0
Aleksandr Vlasov: +19
Ion Izagirre: +23
Outside of the final day crashes, Roglic is proving to be even better than he was in 2020 and for the second-consecutive days, launches an absurdly-long sprint to win the stage and collect even more precious bonus seconds. His ability to sprint for such extended periods at the end of stages is his trump card. It puts the onus on everyone else in the race since he simply has to sit in the front group, and then attack/sprint with 30-seconds remaining in the race, and nobody can stay with him.
For example, Roglic extended his lead out to 52-seconds on Schachmann after Stage 7 from only 16-seconds following the Stage 3 TT, despite only putting 14-seconds into Schachmann on the road.
Max Schachmann’s unlikely overall win means he wins Paris-Nice for the second year in a row. This is a huge win for both him and his Bora team. Paris-Nice has a history of coming down to the final stage and Schachmann kept his head on a swivel and took the race all the way to the finish line knowing that anything could happen.
It is incredibly impressive that Roglic was able to stay in the race lead for as long as he did on Stage 8 despite riding with a dislocated shoulder.
There will certainly be some hard feelings from the Jumbo camp with how Bora accelerated to drop Roglic after his second crash with 25km-remaining on the final stage, but the hard feelings didn’t appear to extend to Roglic and Schachmann, as Roglic congratulated Schachmann right after finishing the race.
This is a devastating way for Roglic to lose Paris-Nice. Making matters worse is that this feeling won’t be unfamiliar for him. He lost the 2020 Tour de France on the last day of racing, dropped out of the 2020 Dauphine on the final day of racing due to a crash, and crashed on the final day of the 2018 Tour of the Basque Country (even though he was able to go on to win that race). It is possible that his relatively late arrival to the sport of cycling makes him more susceptible to crashing since his handling skills aren’t quite as developed.
His Jumbo-Visma team was lacking in strength all week. They were passable on Stage 7, but unlike Roglic, they are a shadow of their 2020 selves, when they were hands-down the strongest team in the world. It is clear they are missing Tom Dumoulin, who provided a valuable bridge and was able to stay with Roglic until he launched his final sprint.
For example, in his current form, Kruijswijk is a domestique and any talk of him being a second leader is purely ceremonial. If anything, this week has shown us Wout van Aert would be the more logical choice as their second leader.
They also clearly struggle to deal with dynamic on-the-road situations. Their struggles to find and help Roglic after his second crash on Stage 8 mirrors the issues they had on Stage 13 of the 2019 Giro d’Italia with Roglic crashed and was isolated from his team.
Bora and Astana might have been driving the pace aggressively after Roglic’s second crash on Stage 8, but in my mind, this loss is all on Jumbo. They didn’t have the strength to properly support Roglic all week, but he was strong enough to make up for him, but when he finally needed team support, they completely dropped the ball and weren’t present to close the critical gap.
For Further Consideration
The fact that there was so much controversy and debate surrounding Roglic’s decision to go for the win on Stage 7 shows that there is still a fundamental misunderstanding in both the media as well as among some teams and riders around the power and force multiplier effect of time bonuses (in cycling, time is good, and more time is even better). This is shocking since we are coming off a year when all three grand tours were decided by less than a minute.
With this in mind, it is bizarre that rival teams keep falling into the trap of pulling the breakaway back for Jumbo so Roglic can gobble up these bonuses. His team wasn’t strong enough on stage 7 to pull the early breakaway back and he was only able to extend his lead courtesy of his rivals’ teams.
Tirreno-Adriatico 4 Notes:
13km: The peloton hits the final climb and Van der Poel immediately drops into the gruppetto to save his legs for tomorrow
8.3km: Ineos has lost two riders in the last 2kms, but is still at the front of the peloton with four riders and the break 2’39 up the road. Meanwhile, race leader Wout van Aert has a single Jumbo teammate and Tadej Pogacar is completely isolated. This is an impressive show of force from the British squad, which has had bad luck so far this week.
7.8km: Egan Bernal attacks and immediately pulls out Pogacar, who doesn’t want to spot the 2019 Tour winner a single meter.
7.1km: Van Aert is able to peg the two riders back with a select group, including Geraint Thomas, who hits the front as soon as they catch Bernal and Pogacar. Bernal’s attack, while it looked impressive, has negated Ineos’ numerical advantage and they only have two riders remaining in the front group.
6.8km: Thomas attacks. Van Aert doesn’t react but simply sits on the front of the peloton and slowly reels him in with his steady, but devastating steady pace. The irony is Van Aert using Ineos’ tactics to beat Ineos is certainly not lost on the peloton.
5.7km: Pogacar sensing an opportunity to isolate the other riders with teammates remaining and realizing his best defense is offense, attacks. Quintana reads the move correctly and marks him well, but just isn’t strong enough to go with him.
5.5km: Pogacar catches a dangling Thomas almost immediately. Thomas throws out a rope in an attempt to hitch a ride.
4.9km: But after less than a kilometer Thomas is dispatched by Pogacar’s pace.
4.4km: Thomas is caught by the Wout-led chase group.
4.2km: Bernal attacks, which in theory is a good idea, but in practice, it ends up just launching Simon Yates, and dropping Thomas while Bernal fails to get away himself.
1.6km: Bernal is dropped by the chase group, which is being led by Van Aert. This is a total disaster for Ineos, who is in full Movistar mode.
Final km: Pogacar wins and holds off a surging Simon Yates, who launched an attack off of Bernal’s move. A small group of Sergio Higuita, Mikel Landa, and Nairo Quintana attack Van Aert roughly 500 meters from the line and come in 29-seconds behind Pogacar.
Joao Almeida finishes 35-seconds back with Van Aert 45-seconds back. Bernal and Thomas cross the line 58-seconds back.
Tirreno-Adriatico Stage 5 Notes:
65.6km-to-go: The peloton is extremely strung out on a difficult, cold, windy and rainy stage. The elastic is about to snap and it is all about positioning at this point in the race.
65.4km: And just a few moments later, Mathieu van der Poel goes to the front of the peloton and attacks on a small rise.
65km: This move explodes whatever was left of the peloton and when we get the overhead shot, it looks like a grenade has been thrown into the main bunch and we see a small group forming at the front.
56km: Egan Bernal, who has made this front group but is 1’26 down on Pogacar in the overall standings, attacks in an attempt to get some of this time back.
54km: Bernal is pulled in by Van der Poel, with Wout van Aert, Pogacar and Sergio Higuta right on his wheel. This forms an even smaller and more elite group.
51km: The small group swells slightly. Van der Poel, not content to wait around to let even more dropped riders join, attacks. But, since he famously cracked on a similar day at the 2019 World Championships, he is being extremely mindful of taking on fuel, so we are treated to the surreal sight of him eating while riding off the front of the race. Due to being over 20-minutes behind in the GC, will be given a long leash by the peloton if he starts to pull out a gap.
50km: This is where things really get crazy. Van der Poel builds up a 10-second lead on the chase group and Pogacar drops his chain on a steep climb, is forced to come to a complete stop and fixing his chain before getting back on and chasing.
48km: Pogacar catches back on, but Bernal attacks immediately. Wout, being extremely attentive, sticks with him and then counter-attacks to take the bonus seconds available at the top of the climb. Quintana is dropped.
40km: Davide Formolo, Pogacar’s UAE teammate, has been MIA so far this season, picks a fantastic time to show up. He gets to the front to keep the pace high enough to deter attacks. The gap to Van der Poel is 1’07.
31km: Bernal has to drop to the back of the front group to get a rain jacket from the team car. The jacket issues that seemed to plague the entire peloton in 2020 continue and he loses a lot of time attempting to put it on. I can’t believe teams don’t have velcro jackets at this point.
Van der Poel has increased his lead by a minute in the last 10km and is now at 2’10, but with most of the peloton suffering from the cold, I wonder if he will crack towards the finish due to only being dressed in a warm-weather kit with no gloves.
17.4km: Van der Poel has pulled his gap out to 3’40 over Pogacar, who sees an opportunity to increase his GC lead over Van Aert and attacks. Van Aert can’t respond as Pogacar immediately rides through Marc Soler and Fabio Fellini, who are dangling 30-seconds off the front.
9km: Van Aert fights to limit his gap to Pogacar. He has kept the gap to 30-seconds as he bridges up to Soler and Fellini. But, when he finally makes the bridge, he gives Soler a push to indicate that he wants him to pull, which is a sign that he is at least mildly cooked and likely won’t be able to close the gap. Pogacar has pulled back almost two-minutes on Van der Poel in 8km and sits 1’58 down.
.8km: Pogacar has slowly been pulling the gap to Van der Poel over the last 10km, and is now only 13-seconds down and a mostly uphill final km to go. Shockingly, he has pulled back 3.5 minutes in 17kms. Van der Poel appears to be suffering from the cold and is really locking up.
300m: Van der Poel does just enough over the final kilometer to keep Pogacar at bay and loses only 3-seconds on the final climb. You can see the Slovenian riding menacingly close, but going into the final few hundred meters.
Van der Poel wins the stage 10-seconds in front of Pogacar, with Van Aert coming in 39-seconds later.
Stage 4 & 5 Takeaways:
A truly incredible victory by Mathieu Van der Poel and the second time in as many weeks that he has launched a long-range attack.
One could quibble with his decision to attack from so far out, but with the cold weather and a difficult finish that suits a strong Pogacar, it ended up serving him well because he was able to stay warmer than the chasers and was able to build up a big buffer before the difficult final few kilometers, which Pogacar rode much, much faster. It is debatable if Van der Poel could have stayed with Pogacar on the final pitch if he would have sat in the group.
Pogacar’s tactics and physical strength on both stage 4 and 5 were incredibly impressive. Despite his team being almost completely absent on stage 4 he was able to fend off attacks until he wanted to launch an offensive. The lack of a team meant he probably had to go from further out than what is ideal, but he was strong enough to make it work.
Wout van Aert is amazing. He won the opening stage bunch sprint against Caleb Ewan and then went on to drop two Tour de France winners with his pace-setting on the final climb on stage 4. He also recovered incredibly well after being dropped by Pogacar with 17km-to-go on stage 5 and limited his losses to 39-seconds. Depending on the outcome of today’s Stage 6, Pogacar likely has the race wrapped up, but Wout will likely hold onto 2nd overall in his first real GC attempt.
The time gap modulations on stage 5 were some of the most absurd I’ve seen in the modern era. Van der Poel built up close to a four-minute lead in 30kms, only to have Pogacar pull back 3’30 in the final 17kms. Some of this has to do with the cold and rainy conditions on the day, but I have to believe some of it is simply due to the extreme talent and confidence of riders like Pogacar and Van der Poel to trust that they can either hold off chasers and/or pull back a massive deficit.
Also, the time gaps in the overall classification are absurdly large for a week-long stage race. This speaks to the brutal, always-on racing that the peloton has faced seemingly every stage.
It is shocking to watch Ineos turn into Movistar. They had six riders with 10km-to-go on Saturday’s stage 4 and failed to get a single rider in the final front group. On Sunday’s stage 5 one of their co-leaders, Egan Bernal, lost over two minutes to Pogacar while their other protected rider, Geraint Thomas, lost over 13-minutes.
This is the flip-side of their new attacking style. In the past, they have simply sat back and made fools of teams trying to claw back time and disrupt their pace-setting. Now that the tables have turned, they are seeing firsthand how difficult it is to win while attacking.
They are also seeing the problem with the strategy of racing with multiple leaders. If they had consolidated behind either Thomas or Bernal before stage 4, Bernal wouldn’t have dislodged Thomas with his attack only to then have to sit up and wait for Thomas to pace him to the finish line to limit his losses.
Bernal, who is emerging as their hands-down strongest rider, isn’t even on the team’s long-list to even start the race (he will be targeting the Giro instead).
The worst sign for the future is that they simply didn’t have the strength to execute their strategies. This is concerning as it likely won’t change during the year. We are in an era where riders’ form doesn’t modulate widely throughout the year as it did in years past and if Thomas and Bernal can’t hang with Pogacar now, it is hard to imagine how they will in July.
Wout van Aert, the darling of attacking riding in 2020, is seeing the unglamorous side of the GC rider lifestyle. While his cyclocross rival Van der Poel can sit up and rest on mountain stages and then choose to attack the next day, Van Aert is fighting tooth and nail for every second on every stage.
We are in a golden age of warm cycling clothing tech, yet nobody in the front group seemed to have access to the proper clothing or even full-finger gloves in an early-season race. Also, I’m surprised no teams have requested Velcro rain jackets.
What Does All of This Mean for Milan-Sanremo?
Mathieu Van der Poel has impressed in the last few weeks, appears to be the best rider in the world by a long shot and as such, has to be considered the favorite to win a race that is almost perfectly suited for his talents. But, remember, nothing is guaranteed at Milano-Sanremo. The most patient, not the strongest rider, usually wins, and it is hard to imagine Van der Poel, whose Spring will be defined by his performances at next weekend’s Milano-Sanremo, the Tour of Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix, lining up to play the waiting game. Van der Poel can certainly win with a solo move, but I would keep an eye on last year’s winner, Wout van Aert, to win if it comes down to a larger sprint, or Tadej Pogacar to sit on and mug Van der Poel at the line when he tries to attack over the Poggio and attempt a solo win a la Vincenzo Nibali in 2018.