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Will next week’s Paris-Nice tell us a lot about the 2023 Tour de France?
Very much so.
On the surface, the race will be on for the spoils of the eight-day romp lovingly called the “Race to the Sun” as the course rolls south out of dreary Paris, past the lonesome wheat fields of the Loire Valley and the edges of the Massif Central before busting out into the spring splendor of the Côte d’Azur.
And in most editions of Paris-Nice, that’s where the story starts and ends.
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But this year will be different. Why?
Because Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard will face off for the first time in a stage race since July.
The eight-day “Race to the Sun” is usually more like spring training, with stage-hunters and rising GC stars typically hogging the spotlight, but with the peloton’s two best stage racers in the field, bragging rights and ego-measuring should heat things up real fast.
It’s a shame that Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), a winner at Paris-Nice in 2019 ahead of his historic yellow jersey that summer, will not be racing due to a knee injury.
It’s rare that a Paris-Nice winner goes on to win the Tour a few months later.
In fact, the last rider to do that was Bernal in 2o19. Bradley Wiggins also pulled the Paris-Nice-Tour double in 2012, and with both Pogačar and Vingegaard in the field, it could happen again this summer.
Still, there are plenty of storylines in France’s second most important stage race (sorry, Critérium du Dauphiné), so let’s dive in:
Pogo vs. Vingo, last-chance stage race saloon
OK, we don’t want to hype this too much, but this is the first time the pair is facing off since last summer’s Tour de France. In a stage race, at least, because they did race together at Il Lombardia in October.
And Paris-Nice will mark the only time their stage race calendars will likely overlap before July, so next week will count for a lot.
Of course, what happens in March will not dictate what happens in July. Neither are at their respective peaks.
But what happens next week will shape what the peloton and fans will see in the Tour de France.
A multitude of questions about training, rosters, equipment, and even the approach toward the Tour will be answered next week.
Both are already flying out of the gate. Pogačar won Jaén Paraíso Natural and the Ruta del Sol, while Vingegaard won all three stages that were contested and the overall at his season debut at Gran Camiño in Spain.
Long gone are the days of using races as preparation for larger goals. Both will be lining up to win, even more so since neither has won Paris-Nice before.
And since it’s the only other stage race until the Tour that both will be racing in the same lineup, well, big things are bound to happen.
On paper, the rolling stage profiles and relatively shorter climbs will favor Pogačar’s punchier style, but Vingegaard is also a rider for all terrain.
A unique twist on the team time trial in stage 3 will tilt the first part of the race in Jumbo-Visma’s favor, setting up what could be a thrilling preview in the closing weekend above France’s sparkling Côte d’Azur of what lies ahead in the heat of summer.
Of course, neither could win, and you can bet both will be playing down expectations, but you can also bet the bank that both riders and both teams will be going full gas next week.
Pride is on the line, and it’s becoming more and more obvious that Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates do not like to finish second.
It will be interesting to see how rival teams and riders can try to find an opening.
Who else could muscle in on the podium
Of course, no race — especially one as prestigious and historical as Paris-Nice — is just between two big names.
The field is solid, with riders such as Romain Bardet (Team DSM), Ben O’Connor (Ag2r-Citroën), Daniel Martínez (Ineos Grenadiers), Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious), Bob Jungels and two-time winner Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), and Simon Yates (Jayco-AlUla) also riding for the spoils.
There’s a fleet of younger riders looking to step up, including Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar), Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost), Mattias Skjelmose (Trek Segafredo), Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers), and the entire Uno-X squad.
Paris-Nice sees its annual trove of sprinters and classics-bound bullies, including Mads Pedersen (Trek Segafredo), Arnaud De Lie (Lotto Dstny), Tim Merlier, and the Soudal Quick-Step squad, Michael Matthews (Jayco-AlUla), Stefan Küng (Groupama FDJ), and Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck).
There’s never a dull moment in the Race to the Sun.
Chasing the French ‘soleil’
Paris-Nice kicks off — no surprise — near Paris and ends along the cozy environs of Nice.
Anyone who’s followed the race knows that early March can deliver horrid weather, especially as the route plows across the flat farm country south of Paris where echelons often play out.
The edges of the Massif Central are laden with race-altering traps.
It’s only finally when the course drives toward the Côte d’Azur that the weather typically opens.
Just like teams, race organizers ASO are also trying out new things.
Paris-Nice breaks new ground with a tweak on timing for the stage 3 team time trial.
Rather than take the time of the fourth or fifth rider across the line, as is the case of most team time trials, officials will set the time taken to the first rider. That means teams can sacrifice more riders early, and then set up their fastest rider to sprint to the line.
The change will also stop a whole team from sweeping the top GC standings, officials said.
It will be interesting to see the reaction from the riders and teams, and if the rule is later used in grand tours.
In addition to the TTT, a mix of sprint stages and breakaway profiles dominate the race until the Col de la Couillole in stage 6. There’s no prologue or individual time trial, so the GC should remain undecided until the final weekend.
At an altitude of 1,678 m, the pass is still the highest ever climbed in Paris-Nice. Sunday’s finale over Col d’Eze will keep things tight until the final dash on the Promenade des Anglais.
Stages for the 2023 Paris-Nice:
Sunday, March 5, stage 1: La Verrière—La Verrière, 169.4km
Monday, March 6, stage 2: Bazainville to Fontainebleau, 163.7km
Tuesday, March 7, stage 3: Dampierre-en-Burly to Dampierre-en-Burly (TTT), 32.2km
Wednesday, March 8, stage 4: Saint-Amand-Montrond to La Loge des Gardes, 164.7km
Thursday, March 9, stage 5: Saint-Symphorien-sur-Coise to Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux, 212.4km
Friday, March 10, stage 6: Tourves to La-Colle-sur-Loup, 197.4km
Saturday, March 11, stage 7: Nice to Col de la Couillole, 142.9km
Sunday, March 12, stage 8: Nice-Nice, 118.4km