Jury still out on Paris-Nice TTT format after Tadej Pogačar sprints alone to line
Teams deployed an interesting mix of tactics in the 32km team time trial that turned tradition on its head.
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Tadej Pogačar sprinting to drop his teammates. Riders burying themselves and then sitting up. Some teams riding en masse all the way to the line.
No, it wasn’t a sprint train or a breakaway stage. The odd sights Tuesday were the end result of the new-fangled team time trial format unveiled at Paris-Nice.
Organizers turned the concept on its head, and spiced up what some say is a moribund discipline. Instead of taking the line at the fourth or fifth rider, the team’s result was measured from the first rider across the line.
That’s why seeing riders like Pogačar sprinting alone 12 seconds ahead of his nearest teammate in a team time trial was such a novelty.
“In the end we did a really good job, didn’t lose much time and we’re in a very good position now for the rest of the race. We did our maximum effort,” Pogačar said. “We’re coming from behind which means we’ll need to attack our rivals.I’m excited for the stages ahead.”
The return of the team time trial at Paris-Nice, the first since 1993, was the reason why the peloton saw Pogačar racing aggressively out of the gate in his debut at the “Race to the Sun.”
The two-time Tour de France winner hoovered up 12, mid-race time bonuses in the first two stages to give himself some padding against the mighty force of Jumbo-Visma.
The Dutch-backed squad won the team time trial by 1 second to EF Education-EasyPost, and chose to race in a more traditional format of keeping its fleet of strong riders together to carry GC leader Jonas Vingegaard to the line.
Even still, Tobias Foss and former world time trial champion Rohan Dennis both sat up in the closing meters after their job was done rather than keep pushing it to the line.
As a result, Jumbo-Visma pulled back 23 seconds to fifth-place UAE Team Emirates. With the individual times of each rider counting at the line, Vingegaard is now 11 seconds ahead of Pogačar.
Mixed reaction across the peloton
Similar to Jumbo-Visma, some teams kept their teams together, while teams like UAE Team Emirates decided to use the 32.2km stage as a rolling leadout for a Pogačar sprint to the line.
Movistar’s Matteo Jorgenson said he was happy to limit his losses to about a minute against the heavy hitters.
“I think it’s a super fun thing to do,” Jorgenson told media at the start Wednesday. “You’re just trying to get the best out of every guy. It’s a nice exercise, it’s a satisfying process. The new format I liked. I was impressed. I personally think it adds a little bit of excitement, and a little bit more dynamic tactics to it. I thought it was cool.”
It was also mission accomplished at Groupama-FDJ to keep GC leader David Gaudu close to the favorites, and Swiss TT ace Stefan Küng carried the French climber all the way to the line to finish fourth at just 14 seconds slower.
Groupama-FDJ sacrificed Ignatus Konovalavus early and rode with five deep into the stage before Küng led out featherweight Gaudu in the final kilometer.
“The guys responded well. We raced with the best,” Küng said. “We would have liked to finish on the podium, but the important thing is to have been able to put David in a good position for the GC.”
Knowing that the TTT was back on the menu, the French team worked on the discipline during drills over the winter.
“We have been working on this discipline since this winter with this team because we had great ambitions for this race,” said FDJ coach Anthony Bouillode. “Last week, we were on the Mortefontaine circuit for a training session.”
There were some extreme TT helmet designs at the Paris-Nice Team Time Trial 🤩🔥
🇫🇷 #ParisNice pic.twitter.com/M5h4dIMs4k
— Velon CC (@VelonCC) March 7, 2023
So will the peloton see the format again?
Paris-Nice is owned and organized by ASO, also the owners of the Tour de France. The last team time trial in the Tour was in 2018, and there’s no one slated for this summer. The discipline remains popular, especially among the top trade teams.
The rule tweak certainly could be a benefit to weaker teams with a strong rider.
UAE didn’t bring all of its Tour-level firepower to Paris-Nice, and Pogačar was certainly able to limit his losses against the superior Jumbo-Visma on Tuesday by sprinting to the line alone rather than waiting on the strength of the fourth rider.
Team time trials were always built around the concept that any one rider is only as strong as their teammates. This new concept spices things up.
After Tuesday’s debut, the jury is still out.