All the talk going into the 2023 Paris-Nice was about the showdown between two riders: Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates). Rarely do Tour de France contenders start a season in quite the red-hot way both had done in the early months of 2023. Pogačar had won three stages and the overall classification of the Ruta del Sol, having already got his year of to a winning start at the Jaén Paraiso Interior classic; then Vingegaard, not to be outdone, achieved a perfect three-out-of-three stage wins to take overall victory at O Gran Camiño.
The stage was set for a competitive rematch between the two stars who had treated us to such an entertaining duel at the Tour de France last summer.
Insatiable Pogačar dominates the race
In the end, it turned out to be a very one-sided affair. Vingegaard attempted the first attack with an acceleration on La Loge des Gardes at the end of stage four, but overestimated his strength, cracking after Pogačar counter-attacked to lose almost one minute to his rival. Now in the overall lead, Pogačar had no problem defending another attack from Vingegaard on Col de la Couillole during Saturday’s queen stage, and outsprinted him and David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) at the line to claim his second stage victory. Then to underline his superiority he left everyone in his wake with an unanswerable attack on the Col d’Eze on the final stage to seal a third win and overall victory.
Pogačar’s appetite for success was insatiable. Right from day one he was looking for ways to gain time, attacking for bonus seconds at intermediate sprints at every opportunity. He didn’t just want to win Paris-Nice; he wanted to win it in style. His UAE Team Emirates didn’t need to chase down the breakaway on stage eight, but Pogačar was hungry for a third stage win. And at no point did he seem motivated by a thirst for vengeance for his defeat by Vingegaard last July; he was as good-natured as ever, and just seemed to ride so aggressively out of a pure love of racing.
On top of that hat-trick, he even ended up winning the points classification (and only missed out on the king of the mountains to a spirited effort from Uno-X’s Jonas Gregaard, who tirelessly attacked every day to ensure he won enough points), and his overall winning margin of 53 seconds was the biggest of any Paris-Nice since 2013.
Latest French hope Gaudu rises to a new level
In the end it was not Jonas Vingegaard, but David Gaudu, who provided the most resistance to Pogačar. The Frenchman made an intelligently timed attack on stage four’s finishing climb of La Loge des Gardes to slip off the front just as Pogačar and Vingegaard were having a breather from attacking each other, and was only caught by Pogačar about two kilometres from the top. He then managed to stay with the Slovenian on the Col de la Couillole, even trying a couple of attacks of his own, keeping himself well in convention for overall victory with a deficit of just 12 seconds going into the final stage.
Gaudu didn’t manage to stay with Pogačar’s decisive final attack on the Col d’Eze, but by sealing second overall, completed what was probably the best performance yet of his career. He made a major leap in his career last year by finishing fourth at the Tour de France, but whereas in that race he was routinely distanced by Pogačar and Vingegaard, he this time was able to stay with the former on all but the last climb, and got the better of Vingegaard altogether. Having been embarrassed earlier this year when private messages of his revealing tensions between himself and Groupama-FDJ teammate Arnaud Démare were leaked, he’s making headlines for the right reasons again now, and should be taken seriously as France’s latest Tour contender.
How the other GC contenders fared
Before we leap to too many conclusions about Vingegaard’s defeat to Pogačar at Paris-Nice, we should remember how the run-in to last year’s Tour de France played out. He likewise lost to Pogačar in finishing second at Tirreno-Adriatico, and was further adrift at Itzulia Basque Country the next month when he placed sixth overall; only at the Tour de France did he find his best legs, and claim his first overall victory of the season. History suggests the Dane takes longer to build up to his best form than Pogačar, and that only finishing third overall at Paris-Nice is far from anything to worry about.
Other GC contenders will be more disappointed. Dani Martínez failed to make the most of a rare opportunity as outright leader for Ineos Grenadiers, finishing outside of the top 25. And Jack Haig didn’t quite live up to the billing as overall contender, finishing down in 10th, and outshone by his Bahrain-Victorious teammate Gino Mader.
By contrast, Americans Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) and Tour of Oman winner Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar) continued to impress and prove their credentials as GC riders with sixth and eighth overall respectively, while Simon Yates (Jayco-Alula) climbed typically well to finish fourth.
Sprinters share the spoils
The road stages that weren’t won by Tadej Pogačar were all decided by bunch sprints, and, as has been the trend in 2023, were each won by different riders. Tim Merlier (Soudal - Quick-Step) drew first blood by defeating Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) on the opening stage, but fell adrift during the run-in the following day, won instead by Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo). Pedersen was narrowly denied a second win on stage by Jumbo-Visma’s Olav Kooij (a first ever WorldTour win for the young sprinter), but his form looks very promising ahead of Milan-San Remo.
Another Milan-San Remo contender to catch the eye was Magnus Cort, who placed third in the stage two sprint and spent a day in the leader’s jersey after he spearheaded EF Education-EasyPost’s second-place finish in the team time trial (crossing the line a few seconds ahead of his teammates, in an experimental tweak to the format that meant each team’s time was based on their first rider over the line). The American team were only prevented from winning the stage by a mere second to the all-conquering Jumbo-Visma line-up, but having the leader’s jersey was a decent consolation.