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SAINT-SAUVEUR-DE-MONTAGUT, France (VN) – Jumbo-Visma dominated the first half of Paris-Nice, sweeping the podium on days one and four, but there were signs of cracks appearing within the Dutch line-up on the race’s first big day in the hills on Thursday even as their leader Primož Roglič took the yellow jersey from his teammate Wout van Aert.
On the final climb of the fifth stage into the small Ardèche town Saint-Sauveur-de-Montagut, Roglič found himself isolated and under attack from a variety of directions. Although the Slovene rider managed to respond to sorties by Ineos’s Dani Martínez, Bora’s Aleksandr Vlasov and BikeExchange’s Simon Yates, and ultimately responded with an attack of own, the fact that he was without support revealed a chink in Jumbo’s armor that wasn’t apparent when the stage got under way.
As the yellow jersey group tackled the early slopes of the first-category Col de la Mure, Roglič’s teammates Mike Teunissen, Christophe Laporte, Nathan Van Hooydonck and Steven Kruijswijk had already been dropped. The surprise was that Jumbo’s yellow jersey van Aert then also slipped back, leaving Roglič with just Rohan Dennis for support. The Australian set a strong pace for a long way up the climb, until Martínez darted away.
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In his post-stage press conference, Roglič admitted that the team’s plan all along had been for van Aert to race hard during the first half of the race, then ease back a touch in Paris-Nice’s second half in order to save himself for his Classics goals later this month and into the first half of April. “We already planned before the start of the race that he would try to get himself ready for his goals and so that’s why it wasn’t a surprise for us,” Roglič said of van Aert.
When asked what he thought when he found himself isolated on the top part of the Col de la Mur and the tricky uncategorized climb that came just before the finish, Roglič acknowledged it wasn’t the ideal situation. “Luckily, I had the legs to be with the best. It was still quite a big group, so there will definitely be quite a bit of racing in the upcoming days,” he said.
The inevitable question was then put to him of what degree of support he would be able to count on from van Aert over Paris-Nice’s three final stages. “We’ll have to see exactly what happens day by day. The plan was that he would not give everything each day by going completely all out, that he’ll try to save something, to recover,” he responded, then adding the caveat: “But, as we saw last year, the most decisive stage was the last one and for sure we need to be ready on that day.” Crashes on the final day of the 2021 “Race to the Sun” resulted in Roglič losing the yellow jersey that he seemed to have wrapped up after winning three stages.
With Kruijswijk affected by a rib injury, Dennis nursing an injury to a thumb and van Aert admitting that his knee has been sore recently – although he said after winning the time trial it wasn’t affecting him much on the bike – Jumbo look vulnerable. Roglič, typically unflappable, suggested he’s confident he’ll get the support he needs.
“Rohan is a bit injured but he showed today [Thursday] a super high level, so he’s ready definitely,” he said. “You don’t choose for these things to happen, it’s just a part of cycling. And you always need to do your best with what you have left. We are a strong team and we will fight for sure.”
On the upside, Roglič is confident that his own form is coming good. “If I’m honest, I had some problems getting back into racing, especially the weekend before Paris-Nice and here too on the with super demanding first two stages,” he revealed. “But now I feel my form is coming back.”
His rivals seem likely to put that assessment to the test on the hilly road Aubagne on Friday, at the summit finish – elements permitting – on the Col de Turini on Saturday and in the always frantic scramble through the hills behind Nice on Sunday.