The windswept roads to Chalette-sur-Loing saw echelons, crashes, and major splits in the peloton by the time the riders reached the finish of Stage 2. Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT Pro Cycling) emerged victorious in the final sprint ahead of Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo). There was carnage behind, as Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) and Sergio Higuita (EF Pro Cycling) used a combination of individual and team strength to finish in the front echelon and gain time on the rest of the overall contenders. Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) lost 18 seconds to the front group, while Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) was perhaps the biggest loser on the day, losing nearly 90 seconds after crashing with around 25 km to go. Maximilian Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) finished in the front group to maintain his overall lead.
Wind and rain wreaked havoc again on Stage 3, but were not quite strong enough to split the bunch this time. Instead it was a number of nervous crashes that caused the most destruction – first with around 6 km to go, a coming together at over 60 kph caused several riders to hit the deck and a few more went tumbling into a grass embankment. The reduced peloton was altogether with less than 500 meters to go, and former World Champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) patrolled the front as the sprinters began to launch. But it was Ivan Garcia Cortina (Bahrain-McLaren) who got the jump on everybody, and the Spaniard took a comfortable victory ahead of Sagan and Andrea Pasqualon (Circus-Wanty Gobert). Hugo Hofstetter (Israel Start-Up Nation) looked bikes with Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) inside 200 meters to go, causing a chain reaction crash that also took down Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep). All were well enough to finish the stage.
Soren Kragh Andersen (Sunweb) gave his team their first WorldTour win of the season by taking the Stage 4 Time Trial victory in Saint-Amand-Montrond. The 15-kilometer parcours were hilly and technical, making for a challenging circuit tailored more towards puncheurs than pure time trial specialists. Victor Campenaerts (NTT Pro Cycling) and then Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-Quickstep) set the early marks, but when Andersen came through, he smashed Asgreen’s time by a full twelve seconds. The only challenger came in the form of the yellow jersey Schachmann, the last man down the start ramp, and the German would finish second on the day. Schachmann’s impressive performance had him carry a minute’s-plus advantage into Stage 5 ahead of GC contenders such as Higuita, Teuns, Nibali, and Pinot.
Jan Tratnik (Bahrain-McLaren) nearly came away with the victory after spending over 220 kilometers in the breakaway during Stage 5. The Slovenian had gone away with three other riders in the stage’s early goings, and Tratnik still held over a 20-second advantage over the bunch with a few kilometers to go. But with the sprinter’s teams bearing down, Tratnik had nothing left in the tank and was caught within just 60 meters of the finish line. Niccola Bonifazio (Total Direct Energie) produced an incredibly powerful sprint to come over the top of Tratnik and win the stage ahead of Garcia Cortina and Sagan.
Stage 6 was an incredibly lumpy 161.5 km to Apt which was sure to challenge the overall contenders without creating race-defining splits. In the end, it was Team Sunweb who completely dominated the day, first sending Stage 4 winner Andersen up the road, and then have Tiesj Benoot race across the gap and go over the top of his teammate on the way to a solo victory. Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) won the sprint to make it a 1-2 for Team Sunweb, while Higuita finished third. Overall leader Schachmann crashed inside 1 km to go, but finished without major injury and avoided any time loss due to the 3 km rule.
Quintana won the final stage of Paris-Nice at the summit of Valdeblore La Colmiane, while Schachmann did just enough to secure the Overall victory ahead of Benoot. As he has done already a few times this season, Quintana jumped away from the group of favorites on the final climb, never to be seen again. The Colombian crossed the line 46 seconds ahead of Benoot who had launched a late attack in hopes of stealing the overall from Schachmann. But the German hung tough, finishing ten seconds down to Benoot in a group containing Pinot, Nibali, and Higuita.
Schachmann topped the GC podium ahead of Benoot and Higuita, while the Belgian took the Points Classification. Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) won the Mountains Classification, Higuita won Best Young Rider, and Team Sunweb won the Team Classification.
Upcoming Race Schedule
Paris-Nice may be the last professional bike race we see for some time. Races and events have been cancelled all across Europe for many weeks, and in some countries for more than a month into the future. Details are hard to come by, but cyclists are basically banned from riding outdoors ‘unnecessarily’ or in groups in both Italy and Spain which are both on lockdown.
Milano-Sanremo – the first Monument of the season – was originally scheduled for this weekend, but has been cancelled as a result of the ordinances set by the Italian government due to the coronavirus outbreak. Other high profile cancellations include: Gent-Wevelgem, E3 BinckBank Classic, Tour de Romandie, Tirreno-Adriatico, and the Volta a Catalunya. Final decisions are yet to be made, but it is highly unlikely that European racing will return in April with the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, and Ardennes Classics.
The Giro d’Italia, having already cancelled the Hungarian start – the Budapest Grande Partenza – announced that they are postponing the event which was originally scheduled for May.