Dutchman Olav Kooij seized the last opportunity of a bunch sprint in this Paris-Nice to snatch his first victory of the season and see his consistency rewarded.
Second in Fontainebleau on stage 2 and 4th in stage 1, the 21-year-old team-mate of Jonas Vingegaard outpaced Danish green-jersey holder Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafreod) on the line while stage 1 winner Tim Merlier (Soudal Quick Step) was third.
Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) retained his overall lead, but it was cut off by four seconds by second-placed David Gaudu, who took advantage of the day’s intermediate sprint to come back within six seconds of the Slovenian.
Gregaard strengthens KOM lead
The real start was given at 11:32 to 148 riders. Max Walscheid (Cofidis), Andrea Piccolo and Marijn Van den Berg (EF Education-Easypost) did not start. From the gun, Jonas Gregaard (Uno X) attacked, taking Sandy Dujardin (TotalEnergies) along with him.
The two escapees were first and second on the first three climbs of the day (Km 3.6 – Cote de Coise, Km 11.7 – Cote de l’Aubepin, Km 34.6 – Cote de Treves), allowing the KOM leader to add 13 points to his tally. The polka-dot jersey holder is now on 27 points in the mountain classification.
Dujardin on his own
The lead of the two escapees reached 5:05 after 12 km and remained stable, topping at 5:50 after 35 km. The strong headwind did not make things easy for the breakaway and Gregaard, his points harvest completed, decided to wait for the peloton, leaving Dujardin on his own in the front.
The Frenchman bravely fought on his home roads – he lives in Tournon-sur-Rhône at km 96.7 –, but his lead steadily decreased as Lotto Dstny and Alpecin Deceuninck riders led the chase. He was finally reeled in at kilometre 122 and settled for the most aggressive rider prize of the day.
Gaudu takes sprint
The intermediate sprint at Col du Deves (Km 159) saw a fierce battle between Tadej Pogacar and second-placed David Gaudu (Gorupama-FDJ), who took advantage of a great lead-out by Arnaud Demare to pick the six seconds on offer.
The Frenchman is now only six seconds behind the Slovenian overall. In the final climb, some 30 km from the line, teams Trek-Segafredo and Jayco Alula raised the tempo to try and drop pure sprinters like Tim Merlier or Sam Bennett and favour their own sprinters Mads Pedersen and Michael Matthews.
But the plan did not quite work and Gregaard surged to add three more points to his polka-dot jersey (30 points).
Stage set for sprint
A bunch sprint was unavoidable and the bunch took it relatively easy until the finale when a roundabout made it tricky to find the best position. Kooij opted to go on the left-hand side and it was a good choice as he took the wheel of Mads Pedersen, who launched his sprint from too far and was overpowered on the line by his young Dutch rival. – www.paris-nice.fr