Paris-Nice: Merlier wins, Pogacar garners

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Tadej Pogacar began his duel with Jonas Vingegaard in the most beautiful way on Paris-Nice by grabbing six seconds overall from the first stage, won in the sprint on Sunday at La Verrière by the Belgian Tim Merlier.

Six seconds doesn’t seem like much. But on a test as tight as the “race to the sun”, where the final result is often played in a pocket handkerchief, this little savings can be counted by the arrival in Nice next Sunday.

To take this small advantage, the Slovenian, third overall, showed his muscles in the climb of the 17 Turns, placed six kilometers from the finish and swallowed at full speed by a grouped peloton which had resumed twenty minutes earlier. the two escapees of the day, Paul Ourselin (TotalEnergies) and Jonas Gregaard (Uno-X).

At the top of this mythical climb in the Chevreuse valley, “Pogi”, very leggy, pocketed the six seconds of the bonus sprint, against zero to his Danish rival, a little less lively and only fourth.

The two champions then continued their effort over several hundred meters in the company of Pierre Latour and, for a few moments, we thought we were seeing each other again on the roads of the Tour de France when Pogacar and Vingegaard, the future winner, had struck each other. suddenly last July.

After a brief discussion, they got up. But, both authors of a great start to the season, they confirmed that they were in good shape, even if Vingegaard walks around (as a precaution, he says) with an FFP2 mask as soon as he gets off the bike.

“At the start I felt a little + shitty +, but over the hours it got better, commented Pogacar. In the middle of the stage, Jonas asked me if we were giving it a shot after the bonus sprint. We had created a small gap at the top of the bump. But there were only two of us working (with Pierre Latour) and there was headwind. I could see that he (Vingegaard) wasn’t insisting. It didn’t make sense to continue. So I got up to finish quietly in the peloton to save energy for the future.

– “Hardly believable” –

Already in the previous bump, the violent climb of Million, the two favorites had put the turbo, bursting the peloton in a very nervous final, marked by a fall which notably sent the Frenchman Thibault Guernalec (Arkéa-Samsic) to the mat.

Several sprinters left feathers there, even if, in the end, this first stage ran under the grayness and 169.4 km long, ended in a grouped finish, with the “big thighs” at the front.

Wearing his Belgian champion jersey, Tim Merlier (Soudal Quick-Step) proved to be the strongest to win quite clearly ahead of the Irishman Sam Bennett (Bora) and the Dane Mads Pedersen (Trek Segafredo).

It is already the fourth success of the season for the new recruit of Patrick Lefevere which gives a little balm to the heart of Quick-Step, relegated to the shadows by the Jumbo-Visma on the first Belgian classics.

“I’m having an unbelievable start to the season, it’s great for me and the team. I don’t know if I’m the fastest sprinter at the moment, I’m just very, very happy with this result”, commented the 30-year-old Belgian who will wear the leader’s yellow jersey on Monday.

This second stage, which will take the peloton over 163.7 km from Bazainville (Yvelines) to Fontainebleau (Seine-et-Marne), also seems promised to the sprinters.

But in current cycling, where the all-out attack has been established as a basic principle by blasters like Pogacar, we are certainly not immune to a new skirmish between favorites.

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