I think the best summary for the first four stages of the Paris Nice is: Jumbo Visma finished 1-2-3 in two of them.
Obviously, we can never say with 100% certainty that the race is decided. One needs to go no further than last year’s edition of this very race to see that. At the same time, what are the odds that lightning will strike twice on the same place?
The reality is that Jumbo Visma surprised everyone (including themselves) on the Cote de Breuil Bois Robert. It’s hard to fault a major contender for underestimating a 1.2km @ 6%. But at the same time keeping an eye on the other GC contenders is their only job on stages like that one. As a result of that and the time trial yesterday the closest contender to Primoz Roglic, Simon Yates, is already 39 seconds behind the Slovenian. And that’s after a sensational time trial by the British rider: 5th, only 11 seconds behind Wout Van Aert and 9 behind Roglic.
Pierre Latour is 41 seconds behind Jumbo Visma’s leader, but I don’t think anybody puts him in contention for the yellow jersey. Riders like Daniel Martinez, Aleksandr Vlasov, or Adam Yates are already around a minute behind. Jack Haig and Nairo Quintana are in the same boat as Latour, in my opinion but already more than a minute and a half behind. Max Schachmann abandoned due to feeling unwell before yesterday’s time trial and João Almeida likes coming from behind so much that he completely takes himself out of contention in important races due to amateur-ish mistakes during “easy” stages. He is now more than 3 minutes behind Roglic and a top-10 is probably the most he’ll be fighting for. It’s still early to say but is first experience as a team leader is an absolute failure. Better here than in the Giro, I suppose.
As I wrote about after the UAE Tour, it is extremely difficult to take the yellow jersey out of the back of the best rider when that rider also has the best team supporting him. This logic is certainly more fluid at the beginning of the season than in Grand Tours because form and preparation isn’t as tuned in March as it is in May, June, or July. However, when you give the favorite nearly a minute to play with and you put yourself in a position of having to chase, then all chances go out the window. Especially when Roglic is also one of the fastest GC contenders in the world sprinting within a small group. Uphill or not. Pitting yourself against him in a situation where he simply must follow you is a recipe for a predictable result.
In other news, Fabio Jakobsen won another race this year, bringing his total up to six already in 2022. And we’re only at the beginning of March. He didn’t manage to put himself in the fight for stage 3, though, a stage won by Mads Pedersen. The irregular profile at the end left himself, Sam Bennett, and Dylan Groenewegen out of contention.
The sprinters’ Paris Nice was done after stage 3, with the two sprint victories going to Jakobsen and Pedersen. I don’t think anybody expects Perdersen to be a factor in the GTs’ sprinters, later in the season, so, once again in 2022, the Dutch sprinter from Quick Step proves that he is the man to beat. Several quality sprinters were present in this edition of the Paris Nice, including the aforementioned three but also Jasper Philipsen, Bryan Coquard, and Wout Van Aert and all of them are going home empty handed except for Jakobsen. He had one shot and didn’t miss. The best sprinter in the world right now.
When I say “they’re all going home empty handed” I meant in sprint finishes. Because there won’t be any more. I would never say Van Aert was going home empty handed even if he hadn’t won anything and the final stage ended atop the Ventoux (callback to last year’s Tour). He might be able to pull that off. Case and point: he just won yesterday’s time trial. One of the best sprinters in the world is also one of the best time-trialists, classics’ racers, and winner of the Ventoux stage at the Tour last year. Yeah, “empty handed” is probably not an expression this man knows. He is currently in possession of the yellow jersey but, with the ascension of the Col de Turini on stage 7, I believe Roglic will be able to make up that difference. I wouldn’t be surprised if Van Aert managed to hang on and maybe even win the other three stages, but the summit finish of stage 7 will probably be too much even for him.
As for Primoz Roglic and the yellow jersey, it would take a massive blunder from himself or the team for him not to take home this edition of the Paris Nice. We saw UAE try questionable tactics at the UAE Tour that almost backfired, so it is possible for his opponents to surprise him. But Jumbo has proven to be run much better than UAE so, even if Roglic isn’t quite Pogacar (who is?), nobody is at Roglic’s level either.
Upcoming (Source: https://www.paris-nice.fr/en/overall-route)