Before a weekend that promises to be explosive, the favorites of Paris-Nice gathered strength on Thursday during a languorous procession towards Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux in the Drôme where the Dutchman Olav Kooij (Jumbo-Visma) removed the fifth stage in the sprint.
The event of the day, in addition to the young Jumbo-Visma sprinter’s first big victory, took place more than fifty kilometers from the finish when the Breton climber David Gaudu, second overall, suddenly appeared, well launched by Arnaud Démare, to steal the six bonus seconds in the intermediate sprint.
Surprised, Tadej Pogacar, who has been chasing bonuses himself since the start of the week, reacted too late to do better than third, limiting himself to two seconds of bonuses, before glaring at Démare who had locked him up a little .
“I made a mistake, I tried to pass to the right but there was no space”, reacted “Pogi”, a handsome player, on arrival.
Result: the Slovenian yellow jersey is only six seconds ahead of the intrepid David Gaudu in the general classification, while widening the gap to 46 seconds over his great Danish rival Jonas Vingegaard, third before the last three stages.
For the rest, the day was perfect for taking a good nap, with the wind in the face and under a strong sun that finally made its appearance, for a real transition stage of 212.4 km, the longest of the eight on the program. .
“I was able to enjoy my first day in yellow. No stress, finally sunshine, really a good day”, reported Pogacar, very relaxed the day after his takeover at the top of the Loge des Gardes, where he had made Vingegaard crack for their first clash in the mountains since the last Tour de France.
– Pogacar on his training routes –
Vingegaard, who did not speak after the finish, accepted Pogacar’s superiority on Thursday. “Tadej was just stronger than me. Maybe I could have run differently but he let me go anyway,” said the Dane before the start of the stage.
His sporting director at Jumbo-Visma, Grischa Niermann, felt that Pogacar would have won no matter what, even if he regretted the “errors” of his rider who had attacked first before “breaking down at the end”.
The Dane promised to “give everything” until the final finish on Sunday, but without having too many illusions. “Of course I’m disappointed because I was aiming for victory in this Paris-Nice. But it’s not the Tour de France and what’s happening here is not decisive for the next Tour de France”, he said. -it relativized.
On Friday, the race arrives in La Colle-sur-Loup after a fairly hilly course, before a mountainous final weekend in the Nice region which promises to be much more lively.
“I know the last two stages by heart, we will be on my training roads, it will be very nice”, underlined Pogacar who lives in Monaco but who could not recognize Friday’s stage because “the route was published too late”.
The arrival on Saturday at the Col de la Couillole, the highest peak in the history of Paris-Nice, after a 15.7 km ascent at 7.1% is likely to be decisive.
Pogacar is obviously comfortable on this ground. But David Gaudu too, at the head of a Groupama-FDJ team which shines with a thousand lights on this Paris-Nice, even if Arnaud Démare, deprived of a train and sacrificed on the altar of his leader’s ambitions, does not arrive to fight their way through the sprint finishes.