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In the pair’s first major matchup since last year’s Tour de France, Pogačar extracted 43 seconds on his Jumbo-Visma rival, won the stage, and surged into the overall lead at the “Race to the Sun.”
“This was not our best day,” sports director Grischa Niermann told ITV Sport.
Vingegaard actually opened up first on the 7km, first-category climb to force the first selection in the GC group. The Dane started the stage with an 11-second advantage on Pogačar thanks to the team time trial effort the day before.
All eyes were on how the pair would react on their first mountain clash since last year’s Tour. Things started off well enough for Vingegaard. The Dane upped the tempo to split the front GC group, then things slowly unraveled.
“Jonas felt really good, but he went over his limit. That takes him a lot of time. He shouldn’t have done that, but that’s cycling,” Niermann told the UK broadcaster.
With David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) up the road, Pogačar bounced out to him with about 2km to go with a searing acceleration. Vingegaard couldn’t follow the wheel. Pogačar linked up to Gaudu, and the pair drove to the line.
Vingegaard was forced to ease up, allowing Gino Mäder (Bahrain Victorious) to join him. Mäder helped Vingegaard swap pulls, and eventually dropped the 2022 Tour winner.
“He is disappointed, because he went for more,” the German sport director said.
Les porteurs de maillots après la 4ème étape:
The jersey wearers after stage 4:
— Paris-Nice (@ParisNice) March 8, 2023
Paris-Nice is still a long way from the Tour de France, but the French stage race is the only time that Vingegaard and Pogačar will face off before July.
On Wednesday, Pogačar matched the early attacks, and then countered with his own a searing attack, and Vingegaard couldn’t follow it.
“Maybe he shouldn’t have attacked himself, because that will cost him dearly. But that’s life. He felt good and wanted to try, but in the end it didn’t work out,” Niermann said. “Up until then everything went well. On the last climb it was up to Jonas himself, we knew that. He was not in trouble at the base.”
Pogačar, of course, was pleased as punch with the outcome.
“First [Vingegaard] went himself, so I thought he was super strong,” Pogačar said. “So I did not immediately counter his attack, but decided to wait for the rest.
“In the end, the final climb was tough and (Vingegaard) missed a little bit to catch me. He couldn’t close the gap and cracked,” Pogačar said. “It was a very explosive final climb. And it was about who still had the best legs in the final phase. I decided to go all in.”
Niermann refused to speculate about what implications the ride might have for the summer, and said the fight is still on for Paris-Nice four more stages to go.
“The game only ends on Sunday, so we won’t give up until then. But Pogačar in his spring form is incredibly good,” Niermann said. “We’ve known that for the last few years. He looks very strong.”
Vingegaard settled into third overall, and the hardest mountains are still to come. The Tour is even further away.
It’s too early for alarm bells, but bragging rights are bragging rights. And Pogačar won some Wednesday.