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'Not the most comfortable': Roglic inherits yellow from Van Aert at Paris-Nice

SAINTSAUVEURDEMONTAGUT FRANCE MARCH 10 Primoz Roglic of Slovenia and Team Jumbo Visma celebrates at podium as Yellow Leader Jersey winner during the 80th Paris Nice 2022 Stage 5 a 189km stage from SaintJustSaintRambert to SaintSauveurdeMontagut on ParisNice WorldTour March 10 2022 in SaintSauveurdeMontagut France Photo by Bas CzerwinskiGetty Images
Primoz Roglic is the new leader of Paris-Nice (Image credit: Getty Images)

Primož Roglič inherited the yellow jersey from Wout van Aert on stage 5 of Paris-Nice, though the handover wasn’t quite as smooth as Jumbo-Visma would have liked. 

The Slovenian remains the favourite for overall victory at this race, but his team’s hitherto sheen of impregnability has been dulled by their display in the moyenne montagne of the Ardèche. 

Although Rohan Dennis produced a lengthy individual stint of pace-making on the Col de la Mure to offset shortcomings elsewhere, Roglič found himself completely isolated in the final 20km of the stage. 

He held firm amid a volley of attacks on the unclassified Saint-Vincent-de-Durfort to take yellow and maintain a 39-second lead over Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco), but this wasn’t how the stage was supposed to play out.

"It was not the most comfortable," Roglič acknowledged after the podium ceremony. "It was how it was. Luckily I had the legs strong enough at the end to be with the best ones, because my guys did all the work the whole day."

After sweeping the top three places on the opening day and again in the stage 4 time trial, Jumbo-Visma held the top three spots on the general classification when the race left Saint-Just-Saint-Rambert on Thursday morning. The men in yellow and black proceeded to occupy the head of the peloton for much of the afternoon, but their stranglehold on proceedings suddenly loosened when Arkéa-Samsic took up the running on the Col de la Lure.

It was only to be expected that Classics men like Christophe Laporte would lose contact here, but, rather more surprisingly, so too did Steven Kruijswijk and the overall leader Van Aert. Suddenly, Roglič had only Dennis for company in the peloton, though the Australian would offset that relative isolation with a performance that recalled his towering displays on Tao Geoghegan Hart’s behalf in the final week of the 2020 Giro d’Italia.

It is not clear why Ineos were unable to harness Dennis’ undoubted gifts last year, but his shift in Roglič’s service here augurs well for his potential to contribute to the team’s Tour de France challenge in July. It is worth recalling, too, that some of Jumbo-Visma’s climbing talent is on duty at Tirreno-Adriatico this week, most notably Jonas Vingegaard. 

Roglič, for his part, preferred to hail Dennis’ performance than bemoan his own isolation on the run-in.

"Not ideal, eh, for sure," he smiled at his situation in the final 20km. "But Rohan, wow, he’s half-human, half-motor also. Another one. We have a lot of these guys on our team, as I saw until now. It’s super nice to see how strong he is, how much work he can do. Hopefully in the upcoming days, we can avoid these kinds of situations."

Van Aert

Before the stage, one wondered whether Van Aert, arguably the most dextrous rider to grace the peloton since Sean Kelly, would look to emulate the Irishman by winning Paris-Nice after landing Wednesday’s time trial. 

Van Aert, however, had long insisted that he had no GC aspirations here given that his focus was on the cobbled Classics, and he sat up as soon as he began to struggle on the Col de la Mure, coming in over 24 minutes down on stage winner Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates).

It wasn’t clear if Van Aert had planned beforehand to ease off on the climb or whether the feelings in his legs on the lower slopes had dictated his approach.

"It was a bit of everything," Van Aert said. "I mean, it was definitely a hard day, and we had a hard time with the team to control the strong breakaway. On the last climb, Arkéa accelerated and I started feeling the legs. Then my head took over and made the decision to take it a bit easier towards the finish.

"After this race, we’re straight into the biggest classics, so that’s personally all that I’m focusing on. They’re definitely in the back of my mind."

Roglič, meanwhile, suggested that the team’s strategy had always been for Van Aert to spare himself in the latter part of Paris-Nice, rather than go as deep as he did a year ago in finishing second overall at Tirreno-Adriatico.

"I mean, now we can speak about it, but I think it was the plan from the very beginning already," Roglič said. "Obviously he has some different goals for himself and he’s trying to be ready for those goals."

Defending yellow

Whatever the reasons for Van Aert’s absence from Roglič’s side in the finale, Jumbo-Visma’s rivals took heart. Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) escaped the peloton on the Col de la Mure, though the distance from the finish and Dennis’ strength dissuaded others from following.

When Dennis swung off ahead of the final climb to Saint-Vincent-de-Durfort, however, Roglič’s opponents looked to make their numbers count. Adam Yates’ stint of forcing was followed by an attack from Ineos teammate Daniel Martinez. Later, Simon Yates and Aleksandr Vlasov had digs, as did Pierre Latour, though Roglič had the strength and the poise to withstand those efforts.

“Everyone, eh, it’s too much of them. I couldn’t even count,” Roglič laughed when asked to name his chief rival. "You can see it’s a lot of guys."

In the overall standings, Roglič remains 39 seconds clear of Simon Yates, 41 ahead of Latour, and 56 up on Martinez, with Vlasov at 59 seconds and Adam Yates at 1:11. 

Although Saturday’s Col de Turini summit finish is in doubt due to the forecast of snow, Friday’s run to Aubagne will not be easily controlled, while Sunday’s finale in the hills behind Nice is always a fraught affair. Van Aert may be out of the general classification contest, but his support will be required in the days ahead.

"It’s always an advantage to have a slightly easier final today so I will be ready to help him if necessary at the weekend," Van Aert said. "But I think he’s going good."

Three days from home, Roglič is in a familiar position atop the standings. Beginning with his victory at the 2018 Itzulia Basque Country, he has won eight out of his last 11 stage races of a week or less in length. And, were it not for heavy crashes at both the 2020 Dauphiné and last year’s Paris-Nice, that record would most likely stand at an even more striking 10 out of 11.

And therein lies the issue for the riders with designs on ousting Roglič in the final three days of Paris-Nice. Whether flanked by teammates or riding in isolation, he remains a man apart.

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Barry Ryan

Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.