Wout van Aert withstood an early crash and then helped to force the decisive split en route to second place in Orléans on stage 2 of Paris-Nice, but the Belgian champion admitted afterwards that he had hoped for bigger gaps to open between the general classification contenders.
On a breathless day of racing, Jumbo-Visma’s striking collective strength was again to the fore as the peloton splintered into echelons in the final 70km.
In the reduced bunch sprint that ensued, Van Aert was beaten to the line by Fabio Jakobsen (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl), but his Jumbo-Visma teammate Christophe Laporte placed third to retain the yellow jersey, while Primož Roglič finished safely in the front group of 40 riders to remain the best placed of the overall favourites.
After their striking exhibition on stage 1, Jumbo-Visma retain the top three places overall, with Laporte leading Van Aert by 5 seconds and Roglič by 11 seconds, while the rest of the race trails by over half a minute.
“I was hoping for bigger time gaps,” Van Aert said. “But everything came back, or at least a lot of guys came back.
“I'm happy, because the legs were good. I was able to ride a nice race. The team was really ready for action and we forced it ourselves a few times. But in my opinion, there were a little too few riders from the Classics and a little too many GC riders to get really big gaps. In the end it turned out to be a good day for Primož, who came through unscathed.”
At one point, Jumbo-Visma had even managed to shed Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) and Adam Yates (Ineos) from the head of the race, but they soon fought back up to the leading group, which at the finish also contained Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic), Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious) and Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe).
Jumbo-Visma did, however, succeed in putting a further 1:29 into two-time winner Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and dangerman Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates), while João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) lost and 1:53 and David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) conceded almost ten minutes after coming down in a crash.
“We were with a lot of guys in front, although Michael [Teunissen] punctured out and Rohan [Dennis] also had a mechanical. But still we were there,” said Van Aert, who conceded that he simply didn’t have the speed to match Jakobsen in the final sprint.
“We did a good job for GC for Primoz and a perfect lead-out from Christophe at the finish but I just didn’t have it. Jakobsen was stronger.”
Van Aert crossed the line with a cut on his left knee, but he downplayed the impact of his crash early in the stage and his subsequent chase back to the head of the race.
“I could not brake when there was a pile-up in front of me. They braked quite hard in front of me and it was just a stupid crash – like every crash, actually – but there was not much damage,” he said.
Like Van Aert, Laporte only began his season at Opening Weekend, but he has made a notably strong start to his first campaign since signing from Cofidis. The Frenchman came close to victory at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and then led the Jumbo-Visma exhibition on stage 1 of Paris-Nice.
In the finale on Monday, Laporte tracked a dangerous move from Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-EasyPost) and then conjured up the strength to lead out Van Aert in the sprint, while holding on to pick up the time bonus for third place.
“It was a very nervous day, and I didn’t have much time to think about being in yellow,” Laporte said. “I just thought about staying in front with the team, with Primož for GC and Wout for the sprint. We had a good day despite some crashes, because the aim was to keep Primož up there.
“There were attacks in the finale, and we tried to control things AG2R and Bahrain, and I also jumped with a group of three near the finish. We knew that QS would lead out the sprint as they had more riders than us, so we followed. I launched the sprint for Wout with 400m to go, and I think we did it all well, but Fabio was the quickest today.”
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