The build-up ahead of the 2023 Paris-Nice has in some ways resembled that of a boxing match rather than a normal bike race, such is the focus on the billing of two specific men. In the red corner is Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), the great talent of his generation who has started this in unstoppable form. And in the blue corner (or, more accurately, the yellow corner, given his Jumbo-Visma team’s bright jerseys) is Jonas Vingegaard, the man who so dramatically ended Pogačar’s winning streak by defeating him at the Tour de France.
Paris-Nice is shaping up to be a rematch of that Tour de France bout, as the first time the pair have competed against each other in a stage race. And they both appear to be entering the race in race-ready form, having each enjoyed astonishingly dominant starts to their season. Pogačar started his 2023 by winning the Jaén Paraíso Interior classic in Spain with a huge solo attack, then followed that victory up by winning the overall title and three of the five stages at the Ruta del Sol.
Not to be outdone, Vingegaard was even more dominant at his first appearance of the season, winning all three stages and the overall classification of O Gran Camiño. Something has to give at Paris-Nice, which makes it such a mouth-watering prospect.
It’s difficult to envisage any rider other than one of these two taking the overall honours, but Paris-Nice can be an unpredictable race, and there are plenty of other top GC candidates riding. Beyond the race for the overall classification, plenty of stage wins are up for grabs, with a quality line-up of sprinters, puncheurs and breakaway specialists all vying for them.
He may have deviated from his usual early season schedule, but Pogačar has looked as indomitable as ever. Rather than try and win a third consecutive UAE Tour, he instead romped to victory at Ruta de Sol; now he’ll make his Paris-Nice debut instead of riding Tirreno-Adriatico (a race he has also won in both of the last two seasons), and will neglect a defence of his Strade Bianche title in order to arrive at the race fresh.
It was a duel between Pogačar and Vingegaard at the 2022 Tour de France (Zac Williams/SWPix.com)
He’ll need to be fresh and ready from day one, in case the crosswinds that so often affect Paris-Nice materialise, one of the few, less predictable variables that could challenge his usual superiority in all terrain. But all being well, Pogačar looks set to take the race by storm, and will be difficult to contain.
Defending Paris-Nice champion Primož Roglič won’t return this year as he keeps racing to a minimum ahead of the Giro d’Italia, so Jumbo-Visma will instead be led by their other Grand Tour star, Jonas Vingegaard. Last year the team wowed the cycling world with their displays in this race, famously on stage one when Roglič, Wout van Aert and Christophe Laporte rode away from the bunch to claim a one-two-three.
Vingegaard tamed Pogačar at the 2022 Tour de France (Zac Williams/SWPix.com)
Laporte rides again this year, as do powerful climbers Tobias Foss, Steven Kruijswijk and Rohan Dennis, in-form rouleur Nathan Van Hooydonck, and sprinter Olav Kooij. It’s a very strong line-up that can put Pogačar and the rest under serious pressure, and is well-equipped to gain time on the stage three team time trial. And though Vingegaard has generally contrasted from Pogačar by not reaching his very best form until the Tour de France, the way he rode at O Gran Camiño last week suggests he’ll have the legs to compete with him at Paris-Nice.
The man most likely to disrupt the expected Pogačar/Vingegaard duopoly is Simon Yates, who has started the season strongly with second overall at the Tour Down Under. The Jayco-Alula rider has a good record at Paris-Nice, making life difficult for Roglič at last year’s edition to place second-overall, a position he also managed in 2018.
While Yates finds it hard to consistently stay with climbers of Pogačar and Vingegaard’s calibre on the huge summits of Grand Tours, in the punchy efforts of Paris-Nice over the course of just one week he can be just as explosive, and there’s no individual time trial for him to worry about losing time in either.
Yates during stage five of the Santos Tour Down Under (Zac Williams/SWPix.com)
Ineos Grenadiers dominated Paris-Nice during the 2010s, winning six of the eight editions between 2012 to 2019, but they haven’t won any since then. Hoping to bring an end to that drought is Daniel Martínez, who takes over leadership duties after his compatriot Egan Bernal was forced out with a knee injury.
The Colombian was third overall last year, in what was his first WorldTour race riding as an outright GC leader for Ineos Grenadiers. He has since established himself as one of the team’s most reliable GC riders, and comes into the race having just won the Volta ao Algarve.
Leading the home contingent is David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), his reputation enhanced since his finishing fourth overall at the Tour de France last year. So far in 2022 he’s made the headlines for off-bike controversy rather than results, after negative comments directed at team-mate Arnaud Démare were leaked, but he did perform well at a couple of French classics last weekend, placing second at the Faun-Ardèche Classic and fourth at Faun Drôme Classic. He has a poor record at Paris-Nice though, having failed to finish either of his previous two appearances in 2021 and 2022.
Bahrain-Victorious have been among the most competitive teams in terms of GC at stage races so far this season, and Jack Haig is set to lead their bid at Paris-Nice. His fellow Australian Ben O’Connor (Ag2r Citroën) also rides, and is a candidate for podium having placed sixth at the Tour Down Under; as is Romain Bardet (DSM), while young Frenchman Kévin Vauquelin (Arkéa-Samsic) is one to watch after his overall victory at Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var. And as a two-time former winner Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) merits a mention, but he’ll find it hard to keep up with the top climbers on the summit finishes of stages four and seven, and may have more success chasing stage wins.
O'Connor came sixth overall at the Santos Tour Down Under earlier this year (Zac Williams/SWPix.com)
Away from the race for GC, there is plenty of talent who will be chasing stage wins. An open sprinting field sees Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Jonathan Milan (Bahrain-Victorious), Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe), Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) and Olav Kooij (Jumbo-Visma) all face off, with the headline names Tim Merlier (Soudal - Quick-Step) following his two stage wins at the UAE Tour, and man of the moment Arnaud De Lie (Lotto-Dstny), who has attracted much excitement with his early season performances.
And alongside them are a number of quality puncheurs who can make the most of the hills that could prevent bunch sprints on stages one, five and six, such as Michael Matthews (Jayco-Alula), Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost), Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) and Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers).