Superlatives are often overused in the world of cycling. However, few could do the last week of racing justice. We take a look back at the 2021 editions of Paris-Nice, and Tirreno-Adriatico.
Paris-Nice: Roglic's Rise and Fall
Let's begin with the ‘Race to the Sun’. In our preview, we highlighted Primoz Roglic as the outstanding favourite despite 2020 winner Max Schachmann and the likes of Alex Vlasov also starting.
Roglic took control of the race on the stage three time-trial when he finished third and ahead of all his GC rivals. Stage-winner Stefan Bissegger, who is quickly becoming one of the most talented time-trialists in the peloton, was unable to hold the jersey the following day to Chirouble, as Roglic powered to stage-victory by 12 seconds. He led the GC by 35 seconds.
After Sam Bennett won his second stage of the race on stage five, with Cees Bol taking the other sprint stage, Roglic expanded his lead further when he won an uphill sprint to Biot on stage six.
Max Schachmann was the eventual Paris-Nice winner (Photo: LB/RB/CorVos/SWpix.com)
He wasn’t done there, though. Roglic was clearly the strongest rider on the Valdeblore La Colmiane and would catch and pass lone survivor of the break Gino Mäder with no more than 25 metres to the line. Mäder looked on, visibly shocked by what had just occurred. Mäder is riding his first season with Bahrain-Victorious and is still searching for his first WorldTour win.
Mader tweeted later, “Think I need to get a bit stronger...”. The win sparked some controversy, should Roglic have allowed Mader to take the stage after already winning two stages himself and with a seemingly unassailable lead in the GC? Mader replied to a tweet later, too, “It’s an easy scenario. First over the line wins. I just need to get there faster”.
Nothing is given in this sport, and if the chance for success is there, it must be grabbed with two hands. That was only proven further the very next day.
The final stage didn't finish in Nice as it usually would, the route was altered to finish in Levens. A 92.7km stage looked easier on paper than the original stage, which would have featured Col d’Eze.
Early on, Roglic suffered a crash, where he later revealed he dislocated his shoulder. It had been a hard fall, which was obvious by the damage to the left-side of his body. His team helped him back to the peloton.
But later, with around 25km remaining, Roglic suffered yet another fall on a descent. The incident was not caught on camera, but suddenly Roglic was in a group behind and chasing alone, despite having teammates up the road. Roglic chased alone on the front before getting some brief help from his Jumbo-Visma teammates. He came agonizingly close to the back of the group, but ultimately was unable to regain contact. Despite entering the day with a 52-second lead in the GC, Roglic had lost Paris-Nice.
Magnus Cort won the stage with Max Schachmann benefitting from Roglic’s demise to top the GC and win Paris-Nice back-to-back.
Astana Premier-Tech filled the rest of the podium with Alex Vlasov second and Ion Izagirre third.
Nothing Can Be Taken for Granted in Cycling
Primoz Roglic (Image credit: ASO/Alex Broadway/SWPix)
It may seem obvious, but nothing is a given in cycling. And that makes it even more meaningful to take opportunities to claim success when they arise.
Primoz Roglic can look back at the 2021 Paris-Nice with fondness despite ultimately failing in the GC. Three stage-wins and a great time-trial shows that he’s in superb form and remains the man to beat at one-week stage races, at least when Tadej Pogacar isn’t present.
Roglic won stage seven in somewhat dramatic circumstances. It was heartbreaking for Gino Mäder, a talented 24-year-old who is still in search of his first win at WorldTour level. But cycling is brutal at times, as Roglic quickly found out, if he’d failed to learn that at the Tour de France last year.
In a sport where a crash, puncture or other detrimental incident can take place in an instant, every time-gain and victory counts.
Tirreno-Adriatico: Can Anyone Stop Pogacar ahead of the Tour de France?
Despite the action-filled Paris-Nice, 'The Race of the Two Seas' has provided just as much drama so far.
Tirreno-Adriatico began with three riders coming to the fore: Wout Van Aert, Julian Alaphilippe and Mathieu van der Poel — no surprises there.
The three men shared the first three stages between them. Stage two saw all three finish on the podium, headed by Alaphilippe.
Only Wout Van Aert would challenge in the GC, though. And that battle would truly commence on the Prati di Tivo and stage four. After finishing in the top 3 on the opening three stages, Van Aert had accrued a 20-second lead due to bonus seconds.
Prati di Tivo was one of the hardest climbs of Tirreno-Adriatico (Photo: Offside/ L'Equipe)
WVA is much heavier than all the other GC contenders, making the Prati di Tivo the ideal chance for his rivals to attack him. That they did, notably when Tadej Pogačar attacked with just under 6km remaining. Geraint Thomas had already moved up the road and tried to hold the Slovenian’s wheel but to no avail. Being forced to chase behind was race leader Wout Van Aert, with some of the strongest pure climbers in the world sat on his wheel.
Van Aert maintained a steady tempo for the entirety of the Prati di Tivo, not following any moves and sticking to a tempo he knew he could maintain.
Simon Yates was the only man to somewhat match Pogacar, and came close to joining Pog at the front, only to finish six seconds back at the finish. The gap from Pogacar to Van Aert was 45 seconds at the line, an exceptional effort by the heavier Belgian who held-on to second-place overall.
The next stage to Castelfidardo was even more eventful, though. Characterised by a finishing circuit that featured a 1.5km long climb of 10.1%, with atrocious weather conditions throughout, this day was not for the faint-hearted.
It should be no surprise then, that Mathieu van der Poel attacked with 60km remaining, solo. The Dutch champion had sat-up the day prior losing 20 minutes, meaning he was no longer a GC threat. With riders visibly struggling in the conditions, an elite group quickly formed ‘chasing’ Van der Poel, whose lead had grown to three minutes.
However, with 17km remaining after some great work by Davide Formolo, Pogacar attacked. It was a surprise. He held a 35-second lead in the GC over Van Aert. Did he need to risk an attack with a fair lead already?
Pogacar simply tore up the field, it was a magical ride and no one came close to being able to follow. MVDP’s lead started to tumble rapidly. The Dutchman had held a three minute lead when Pogacar had attacked, but he was empty. You rarely see Van der Poel grimace or show any signs of struggle, but he was clearly suffering severely. Pogacar closed to within 10 seconds of Van der Poel, but the Dutchman held him off for his second stage-win of the race. It was a Herculean effort.
Tadej Pogacar’s performance was out of this world, though. He gained 39 seconds on Wout Van Aert meaning he no longer needed to worry about losing the leader's jersey in the final time-trial. Egan Bernal, the next GC man to finish, was almost two minutes behind Pogacar. It was an incredible day of racing in gladiatorial conditions which now sees the top 10 in the GC spread across seven minutes entering the final two stages.
Stage six was won by the breakaway as Mads Würtz Schmidt beat Brent Van Moer to the line in a sprint.
The time-trial arrived and it was Ganna time, so we thought. Filippo Ganna was bidding to win his ninth straight time-trial, but it wouldn’t be his day. Instead, European Champ Stefan Küng set the early benchmark. He looked set to win the stage, but Wout Van Aert claimed the day, beating Kung by six seconds and Ganna by eleven. Wout can do it all.
Wout Van Aert is a Genuine GC Contender
Wout Van Aert (Image credit: ASO/Alex Broadway/SWPix)
Wout Van Aert has won monuments, mass-sprints, time-trials, and now he's a genuine contender to win stage-races.
Mountains are the only area of uncertainty for WVA. He did show he’s more than capable on long climbs at the Tour de France last year, with notable strong performances on the Col de la Loze and Grand Colombier where he was one of Primoz Roglic’s final domestiques.
However, we haven’t seen WVA produce a performance as he did on the Prati di Tivo before. Despite doing the majority of the pulling in the group, Van Aert finished ahead of Jakob Fuglsang, Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas, and just behind Mikel Landa and Nairo Quintana, who simply capitalized on WVA’s position in the GC to kick-away in the final metres.
The Prati di Tivo is just under 15km at 7%, a true climbers mountain.
Van Aert will focus on the classics next before turning back to the stage-races later in the year at the Dauphine and Tour de France. Will he again be a super-domestique in the mountains, or could we see Van Aert play an inflated role in the GC?
Is Tadej Pogacar the Tour de France Favourite?
Image credit: Alex Broadway/ASO/SWpix
We didn't think it was possible, but Tadej Pogačar may have gone to a different level.
As well as winning Tirreno, Pogacar won the UAE Tour earlier this season, but Adam Yates was able to closely match Pog in the mountains. However, the Slovenian blew away all his GC rivals on the Prati di Tivo and then in-and-around Castelfidardo at Tirreno. As explained earlier, nothing can be taken for granted in cycling. But Pogačar looks set to win Tirreno at the first attempt in stunning style.
Is he your favourite to win the Tour de France back-to-back?
Cover image: Presse Sports / Offside