Merlier first leader on his first Paris-Nice stage
March 5 th 2023 - 17:08
Belgian champion Tim Merlier made the best of an eventful first stage of Paris-Nice around La Verrière, outside Paris, to outsprint the rest of the bunch and take the lead of the Race to the Sun. Already winner of stages in the Tour of Oman and the UAE Tour this season, the Soudal Quick Step fast man was riding the race for the first time and he overpowered Sam Bennett (Bora Hansgrohe) and Mads Perdersen (Trek Segafredo), both past stage winners, on the line to take the yellow jersey.
Two in the break
The real start was given to 154 riders at 13:01 under grey skies. France’s Paul Ourselin (TotalEnergies) and Denmark’s Jonas Gregaard (Uno-X) broke clear after 16 km and received the go-ahead from the peloton. Their lead topped at 3:45 at kilometre 35 and the bunch, led by Lotto Dstny and Alpecin Deceuninck riders, maintained a safe three-minute gap.
After the first ascent of the Cote de Millon-la-Chapelle, on which Ourselin collected three points, the gap went down gradually and was only 2:05 when the pack crossed the finish line for the first time.
The tempo steadily increased in the second lap of the day with the sprinting teams leading the chase and the gap was down to the minute with 50 km to go. The two escapees now had to be content with reaching the last climb, 20 km from the finish, to try and fight it out for the KOM jersey.
With 40 km left, Jonas Vingegaard’s Jumbo Visma team jumped to the front of the bunch and the speed gained another gear. Ten kilometres further, Ourselin and Gregaard were reined in after more than 120 km at the front.
As the tension increased, a crash took place in the peloton, involving half a dozen riders, but the only rider forced to stop was France’s Thibault Guernalec (Arkea-Samsic). Neilson Powless (EF Education) attacked at the bottom of the last bump with 20 km to go and the peloton split. Tadej Pogacar was on the American’s heels with Arnaud Demare and a group of 27 riders broke clear, taking some favourites like Dani Martinez or Simon Yates off-guard.
As the the bunch regrouped with 16 km to go, the tireless Powless surged again.
Pogacar’s show of strength
Winner of GP La Marseillaise earlier this season, the American held the pack at bay until 7 km from the line. The only intermediate sprint of the day saw Pogacar surge to pick the six seconds up for grabs. France’s Pierre Latour jumped behind him and the two were quickly joined by Jonas Vingegaard at the front. While the two pre-race favourites finally waited for the pack, Latour went on. But he was run down in the last two kilometres as the pack was gearing up for the bunch sprint. Merlier’s team-mate Florian Senechal attacked at the red flame, disorganizing the sprint for their rivals, and paving the way for his leader’s show of strength. Pogacar leads the young rider’s classification.