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The Road to the Tour—Episode 1: The Weather and Vingegaard Dominate

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

The Road to the Tour is a new series that will follow the four favourites for the 2024 Tour de France – Tadej Pogačar, Jonas Vingegaard, Remco Evenepoel and Primož Roglič – on their progress to what could be the greatest road race ever.

This week features two major stepping stones en route to the Tour de France, the Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice. The Paris-Nice is being especially scrutinised as it features two of the four Tour favourites, Primož Roglič (BORA-hansgrohe) and Remco Evenepoel Soudal–Quick-Step). The Tirreno has two-time Tour winner Jonas Vingegaard (Visma–Lease a Bike) who is not facing a direct Tour rival but is riding against the very strong 21-year-old Spaniard Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) who may be entered in the Tour to aid his team leader, Tadej Pogačar.

Vingegaard climbs to dominant stage win

Vingegaard had the most impressive performance of the week when, in Friday’s stage 5 of the Tirreno-Adriatico, he accelerated out of a small, elite group of riders with 28.9 km to go in the 144 km stage, and 5.3 km remaining on the ascent of San Giacomo (11,9 km @ 6.2%), and left everyone in his wake. He led by 56 seconds when he crested the mountain, and his pursuers, who included Ayuso, the race leader at that point, never drew closer than 51 seconds. His winning margin at the finish over Ayuso and the third-place Jai Hindley (BORA-hansgrohe) was 1:12.

The Dane had a less than impressive performance in the first-stage time trial when he finished ninth, 22 seconds behind the Spaniard. But Vingegaard always seems to leave his time trial training for late in the season. He now leads the race by 54 seconds over Ayuso, with Hindley in third, at 1:20.

Weather dampens Roglič and Evenepoel

The weather has played a part in both races but especially in Paris-Nice. Rain began falling midway through the 26.9 km stage 3 team time trial and had a significant impact on its outcome. Evenepoel’s Soudal–Quick-Step team had the fastest time midway through the 26.9 km race but then hit the wet roadway and lost about 40 seconds to the eventual winners, UAE Team Emirates, which had dry sailing throughout. Soudal finished fourth, 22 seconds adrift.

The adverse weather also affected Roglič’s BORA-hansgrohe who were close to Soudal at the halfway point but then faded badly on the slick roads to finish 11th, 54 seconds behind the winners. That disappointing result was not down to only the weather, however. BORA raced the second half of the stage with only three riders, while Soudal and UAE both had six riders for most of the stage. The time for the stage was taken from the first rider from each team to cross the finish line but the more riders you have riding with you, the longer each rider can rest in the slipstream of the others and the stronger each rider will be in the latter stages of the stage.

Primož Roglič
Roglic of Bora-Hansgrohe pictured at the start of the sixth stage of the Paris-Nice. © Profimedia

“It is not my habit to make excuses,” Roglič told Slovenian radio station Val 202. “It was wet and the wind came up but that doesn’t change the fact that we had to go to the finish with only three people. That wasn’t enough to do what we wanted.”

As for Evenepoel, he also lost out at the finish of the final climb of stage 4 when he was nipped at the line by Mattias Skjelmose (Lidl-Trek), depriving the Belgian of a place on the stage podium. The stage was won by Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain Victorious), with Australian Luke Plapp (Jayco AlUla) finishing third and taking the race lead.

Evenepoel later criticised UAE Team Emirates for their strategy: “Some of the tactics from UAE Team Emirates were a bit strange, letting the guys [Plapp and Buitrago] go, especially if you’ve got four guys at the top of the classification. You could have taken one guy out and made him work like they started to do. But in the end, Jay Vine stopped riding so that was a bit unfortunate for the whole bunch that Buitrago and Plapp, two dangerous guys, could stay away.”

Earlier, Evenepoel had blamed former Soudal teammate Tim Declercq (now Lidl-Trek) for his team’s disappointing showing in the time trial, telling Sporza: “He stayed ahead of us in a technical corner and didn’t move out of the way. A thank you to him. That was really nasty. Tim may have been an ex-teammate but you don’t do something like that. Did he do it on purpose? I hope not but it is possible.” He later apologised to Declercq on social media.

Both Evenepoel and Roglič lost nearly a minute on Friday’s stage 6, which was won by Skjelmose who was part of a late three-rider breakaway. Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) now leads the race by 23 seconds over Matteo Jorgenson (Visma–Lease a Bike), with Plapp sitting third at 34 seconds. Evenepoel is fifth, at 1:03, with Roglič in 11th, 1:44 behind the leader. As usual, the decisive stages in the Paris-Nice will be run this weekend, with a big final climb to a summit finish on Saturday, in a stage shortened because of snow, and six steep climbs to come on Sunday, weather permitting.