Paris-Nice, episode 80: Laurent Jalabert

February 28 th 2022 - 12:00

"Jaja" strikes thrice (VII/X)

Since 1933, Paris–Nice has been the first major event of the season for the stars gunning for glory in stage races. The balance of power on the Promenade des Anglais or the Col d'Èze, depending on the season, gives us our first glimpse of where each Tour de France favourite stands. To mark the 80th edition, is looking back on how the Race to the Sun shaped the careers of ten riders who shared a special bond with the event.

Paris–Nice stands out from Laurent Jalabert's motley collection of trophies as the stage race where he picked up the most victories. His never-say-die attitude and well-rounded profile catapulted him to a hat-trick in the mid-1990s.

A stage hunter crashes the GC riders' party

The Jalabert phenomenon was already a known quantity when he lined up for the 1991 Paris–Nice, which ended in a clean sweep for Toshiba. The 22-year-old gave a clear run to his leader, Tony Rominger, who stood at the top of the podium in Nice together with Jalabert and another teammate, Martial Gayant. By the time 1993 rolled around, Jalabert had added a few more notches to his belt with a Tour de France stage win in the shadow of the Atomium in Brussels, the green jersey in Paris and flashes of brilliance in the Volta a Catalunya. A consummated sprinter, he was bested by Cipollini and Abdoujaparov in the first part of the week, but he ended the race on a high note with his first Paris–Nice stage win, taken on the Promenade des Anglais.

The man from the Tarn department, a world-class stage hunter, added to his haul with victories that included an impressive seven stage wins in the 1994 Vuelta, but in 1995 he changed tack and became a much more well-rounded rider.  Second in the bunch sprint in Fontenay-sous-Bois, the very next day he scored big with a solo triumph in Roanne, putting clear daylight between himself and avowed rivals such as Zülle and Olano. He just needed to stay on top of things until Nice to claim his first major stage race and open his account in what would be one of the most prolific areas of his career, following it up with victory in the Critérium International, the Volta a Catalunya in June, fourth place in the Tour in July and, finally, top honours in the Vuelta as the icing on the cake. There was an air of Sean Kelly about this versatile power rider with a south-western accent! 

The Lord of Mazamet shines on every terrain

"Jaja" started his title defence bid with two consecutive solo victories, first in Chalvignac and then in Millau, in both cases taking off within the last five kilometres. His comfortable lead ahead of the final time trial, moved from the Col d'Èze to the seafront, was enough to keep Chris Boardman and Lance Armstrong at bay. In 1997, Jalabert pulled on the white jersey after winning the prologue in Paris. From then on, his strategy was less flashy but every bit as effective, as he pounced on every bonus second on offer. He beat Laurent Dufaux to the line in the stage to Sisteron, featuring the Mont Ventoux, padded his lead and cruised to Nice after shining on every terrain throughout the week-long event.

His three titles in a row make the man from Mazamet the top dog of Paris–Nice, but it was also the end of an era. The following season, Frank Vandenbroucke stole his crown after proving stronger from the prologue and putting 40 seconds into him in the final general classification. The former sprinter, nicknamed "the Panda", then skipped the Race to the Sun three times in a vain attempt to find success in Italy. He made his comeback in 2002, his last start as a pro rider. Although unable to match Vinokourov and Casar in the fight for the title, he came full circle and secured his final stage race podium spot in Nice.

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