Unable to get rid of arch-rivals David Gaudu and Jonas Vingegaard in the climb to La Couillole, the highest summit of Paris-Nice, Tadej Pogacar still secured a second stage win and tightened his grip on the leader’s jersey, even if he will tackle the final stage around Nice with a slim lead. 

The Slovenian, who took the Race to the Sun lead at la Loge des Gardes, took two more seconds off Gaudu, but only leads the Frenchman by 12 seconds overall while Jonas Vingegaard retained his third place, 58 seconds adrift. As is often the case, Sunday’s 118.4-km final showdown around Nice promised to be another nail-biting finale.

Nineteen up front

The real start was given at 11:00 to 142 riders. Two-times Paris-Nice winner Max Schachmann (Bora Hansgrohe), his team-mate Sam Bennett, winner of five Paris-Nice stages, Arnaud De Lie (Lotto Dstny), Taj Jones, Gay Sagiv and Tom Van Asbroeck (Israel Premier-Tech) did not start.  

A lot of attempts took place after the gun but a group of 13 escapees finally emerged after an attempt launched at kilometre 15 by Lilian Calmejane (Intermarche-Circus-Wanty).

The break comprised Calmejane, Javier Romo (Astana), Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe), Larry Warbasse (Ag2R-Citroen), Florian Sénéchal (Soudal Quick Step), Brent Van Moer (Lotto Dstny), Hugo Houle (Israel-Premier Tech), Dorian Godon (Ag2R), Soren Kragh Andersen (Alpecin Deceuninck), Kelland O’Brien (Jayco Alula), Josh Tarling (Ineos Grenadiers), Pascal Eenkhoorn (Lotto Dstny), and Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) who was dropped in the first climb.

As the first climb of the day was nearing, the leading group was joined by Kelland O’Brien (Jayco Alula), Josh Tarling (Ineos Grenadiers), Lucas Hamilton (Jayco Alula) and Remi Cavagna (Soudal Quick Step). Kobe Goosens (Intermarché), Gregor Muhlberger (Movistar), Harrison Sweeny (Lotto Dstny), Jérémy Cabot (TotalEnergies) and David de la Cruz (Astana) later caught the breakaway in turn, bringing the number of riders in the front to 19.  

Green jersey quits

The wind, the high pace, the climbs and a few crashes led a few riders to call it quits. Green jersey holder Mads Perdersen (Trek-Segafrado) was among the men to give up. At the top of the 1st category Cote de Tourrette-le-Chateau, Dutch champion Pascal Eenkhoorn came first and took the 10 points on offer.

The peloton, led by UAE Emirates riders was 2:15 adrift at that stage. In the long descent, Tarling, the youngest rider in the race, crashed and was forced out of the break and the race. The lead of the escapees topped at 2:55 with 45 km to go until Ineos Grenadiers took the reins of the peloton.

De la Cruz won the day’s sprint ahead of Goosens and Romo and the three continued their effort and dropped their breakaway companions for a while (km 100) but the group was back together a few km later.

A crash involved Kevin Vauquelin at the back and the leading group was split again at kilometre 115 when Politt, Eenkhoorn, Cabot, Goosens and Romo parted with the rest of the break.  

Gaudu attacks but Pogacar resists

With 20 km to go, a crash in the peloton involved Alexander Kristoff (Uno X), Mattias Skjelmose (Trek-Segafredo), Thomas de Gendt (Lotto Dstny), Julien Bernard (Trek-Segafredo) and Tom Scully (Ef Education).

At the bottom of the climb, Kobe Goosens and Javier Romo dropped the rest of the break, whose members were gradually run down by the pack. Tobias Foss (Jumbo-Visma) set a high tempo, fatal to Dani Martinez (Ineos Grenadiers) and Ion Izagirre (Cofidis).

Romo was caught with 10 km to go and Goosens lasted another kilometre. With 7 km left, the top 15 GC leaders were still in contention, except Dani Martinez (Ineos), Matteo Sobrero (Jayco), Ion Izagirre (Cofidis), Mattias S.kelmjose (Trek) and Kevin Vauquelin (Arkea). Jonas Vingegaard tried to raise the tempo with 6 km to go after an initial attack by Chris Harper (Jayco Alula) but Tadej Pogacar counter-attacked and went.

Two kilometres later, David Gaudu and Vingegaard joined forced to close the gap and the Frenchman even tried to surge with 3.5 km left. He attacked again two kilometres from the line, and the reigning Tour de France champion was dropped by his two arch-rivals.

Vingegaard managed to close the gap again and set-up a final sprint by the three main GC contenders. He went first but quickly faltered as Pogacar jumped on his pedals irresistibly to clinch his 7th win of the season. – www.paris-nice.fr

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