What's Cool In Road Cycling

Race Wrap: POG Vs VINGE At Paris-Nice & Strade Bianche Takeaways

Key Takeaways

Race Breakdown: The major highlights & takeaways from the past weekend of great racing on the beautiful white roads of Tuscany and the dreary windswept fields of Northern France.

– This article is an excerpt from the Beyond the Peloton newsletter. Sign up here for full access. –

strade bianche23
Stunning ride by Pidcock

The ‘real’ 2023 cycling reason began in earnest this past weekend, with Tom Pidcock wasting no time grabbing the biggest one-day victory of his career with a fantastic ride at Strade Bianche and the dueling early-season stage races of Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico kicking into gear over the course of the week. Both races are still in their early stages, but GC riders are already jockeying for position, with Tadej Pogačar racking up a formidable early lead over his Tour de France archrival Jonas Vingegaard at Paris-Nice. Meanwhile, Filippo Ganna laid down one of the most impressive time trial performances of his career along the Mediterranean coast on the first stage of Tirreno-Adriatico while the major GC contenders struggled to limit their losses in his wake.

tirreno23 st1
Stage 1 of Tirreno to Ganna

To expand on my initial Strade Bianche thoughts, I’ve broken down the key takeaways from the Italian one-day race, plus a few thoughts from the first few stages of Paris Nice below:

Strade Bianche Race Notebook:

51.8km: Alberto Bettiol attacks on a rolling gravel section after a sustained period of extremely high pace that has strung out the field.

strade bianche23

51.7km: Somewhat surprisingly, very few riders respond to this move, potentially due to poor positioning blocking their path and/or since they don’t consider Bettiol and QuickStep’s Andrea Bagioli capable of staying away to the finish. Tom Pidcock immediately sees an opportunity and bridges up to the duo.

strade bianche23

50.5km: The trio quickly build up a sustainable gap to the peloton and when Bettiol isn’t quick to pull through, it is clear that Pidcock is far stronger than his companions.

strade bianche23

48.9km: Pidcock uses the ensuing gravel descent to leave the weaker riders. He uses his Olympic-winning mountain biking skills to surf down the loose surface and leave Bettiol and Bagioli in his literal dust. The pace differential is shocking and just how quickly Pidcock chases down and passes the lead moto is truly impressive.

strade bianche23

42.4km: Just 10km after attacking, Pidcock closes down the 2+ minute gap to the breakaway. When he reaches the leaders he blows by them with almost no acknowledgment. The decision to not even ask them to work was key since it allowed him to maintain his own high pace and preserve his time gap.

strade bianche23

38.5km: The peloton has split up into various chase groups following a Mathieu van der Poel acceleration. However, Van der Poel himself has found himself tailed off in a second chase group and is unable to close that gap that he would have been able to glide across in recent seasons.

strade bianche23

21.3km: Jumbo-Visma’s Tiesj Benoot attacks from the lead chase group and heads off in pursuit of Pidcock, who is 22 seconds up the road. He is soon joined by two riders, including Intermarche’s Rui Costa, an infamous chase-killer.

strade bianche23

17.8km: Somewhat controversially, Benoot’s Jumbo teammate Attila Valter bridges up to Benoot with Matej Mohorič and Quinn Simmons in tow. This visibly frustrates Benoot, but in reality, he wouldn’t have been able to close the gap to Pidcock with this three-riders group (Costa often refuses to share pacesetting duties) and it is better for Jumbo to have two riders in a six-rider chase group than one in three.

strade bianche23

11.9km: However, things start to unravel when instead of offering steady pacemaking, Valter starts attacking the group. He does get as close as seven seconds to Pidcock, but still can’t make contact. Once it is clear he can’t bridge the gap, the race is over for the group since the attacks have broken trust in the group and others will now decline to offer pacemaking duties.

strade bianche23

2.1km: And sure enough, with Valentin Madouas, Costa, and Mohorič refusing to pull through, the gap to Pidcock has increased to 28-seconds. Oddly, Benoot and Valter appear to be unable to decide who should work for whom and are literally looking at each other to set pace for the other.

strade bianche23

Finish: Pidcock glides up the steep climb into the Piazza del Campo unbothered to take the biggest one-day win of his career while Madouas easily overpowers Benoot and Valter to take second place.

strade bianche23

Top Three:
1) Tom Pidcock +0
2) Valentin Madouas +20
3) Tiesj Benoot +22

strade bianche23
It chase was close at one point, Pidcock took it

Key Takeaways

The first three takeaways are my initial post-race thoughts that were sent to premium subscribers on Saturday after the race. Click through to see the full breakdown.

strade bianche23
And the fans loved it

4) This course was almost perfectly designed for Tom Pidcock, but his decision-making was key to this win

    • If you drew up a one-day race for Tom Pidcock from scratch, you might not be able to design one that compliments his talents of punchy climbing ability, dirt descending skills, attacking mindset, and reduced-bunch sprint than Strade Bianche.
    • While this overlap between his natural ability and the course certainly contributed to this win and means that things might not align so perfectly in the Northern Classics when the descents are less crucial, he still had to fight to be at the front at just the right time to respond to Bettiol’s attack and had the presence of mind to continue pressing solo even as he towed the leftovers from the early breakaway and the powerful chase group behind cut into his timegap.
    • Unlike Pogačar last year, Pidcock never truly blew open his time gap to the chase group behind. In fact, it was rarely over 30-seconds. It took an extreme amount of confidence to hold his own pace and trust that the complicated dynamics of the chase group would continue to benefit him as they got within 7-seconds.
      • How Pidcock’s time gap changed:
      • · 42km: 30-seconds

 

      • · 31km: 20-seconds

 

      • · 15km: 15-seconds

 

      • · 10km: 7-seconds

 

      • · 5.5km: 20-seconds

 

      • · 2km: 28-seconds

 

    • · Finish: 20-seconds
  • Ineos and Pidcock appeared to best understand that Strade has fallen into a somewhat familiar pattern of favoring the breakaway over the chase group in recent editions (see: 2022 where Tadej Pogacar also won after launching an attack with roughly 50kms to go).
    • Pidcock’s long-range attack certainly held risks, but he seemed to understand the dynamics that would unfold behind him and was rewarded for these risks.

strade bianche 23
Van der Poel not 100% yet

5) Alpecin’s terrible season continued due to Mathieu van der Poel’s missing form

  • It was somewhat shocking to see Van der Poel struggle to close down gaps that he would have been able to glide across in his sleep last season, especially since he looked so good at the recent CX World Championships and is coming off a dedicated training block.
  • Considering it is so early in the Spring and Strade isn’t a top-tier target for the biggest Classics contenders, it is possible Van der Poel was training through this race and was simply fatigued from big training miles.
    • But, once we take into account his Alpecin team’s slump (only WT team without a win in 2023) and that the 28-year-old Van der Poel has appeared to become less explosive after years of near-year-round racing, this is a slightly concerning performance and something to keep an eye on.

strade bianche23
Alaphilippe – Not a serious contender

6) QuickStep lacks a viable post-Julian Alaphilippe strategy

  • The 30-year-old former double World Champion was one of the favorites coming into this race, but once the flag dropped, he never appeared to be a serious contender. This underperformance comes after a crash-laden 2022 season where he struggled to find consistency and his team manager has outwardly expressed regret regarding Alaphilippe’s lucrative contract.
  • One of the most interesting things about his QuickStep team’s strategy of why they burned riders like Casper Pedersen by having them set pace on the front and provided key blocking on the front after Andrea Bagioli got into a breakaway with Pidcock that he didn’t really stand a chance of winning out of.
    • These decisions beg the question of whether QuickStep has a viable and clear post-Alaphilippe strategy or if they are still going through the motions of riding for a race favorite via muscle memory even if they now lack serious contenders.

paris-nice 2023 stage 1
Paris-Nice: Stage 1 to Merlier

Paris Nice

Stage 1
6km: After Pogačar was the only rider willing and/or capable of following a Neilson Powless attack on the previous climb, he surges away to easily take the valuable bonus seconds at the top of the climb. He picks up a six-second bonus while Vingegaard gets nothing behind.

paris-nice23

4km: Showing just how strong he currently is, Pogačar keeps rolling after the sprint point and is followed by Vingegaard, who, at a certain point, looks over to let Pogačar know that he won’t be that easily shaken and that this attack is ultimately futile.

paris-nice23

Stage Results
1) Tim Merlier +0
2) Sam Bennett +0
3) Mads Pedersen +0

Stage 2
13km: Pogačar yet again takes the six sprint bonus seconds, with Michael Matthew’s and Jonas Vingegaard’s Jumbo teammate Nathan Van Hooydonck unable to stop him.

paris-nice23

Stage Results
1) Mads Pedersen +0
2) Olav Kooij +0
3) Magnus Cort +0

Filtered GC Standings After Stage 2
1) Tadej Pogačar +0
2) Jonas Vingegaard +12

paris-nice23 st4
Winning ways for Pogačar

Stage 4

4.3km: After Pogačar’s UAE team leads the peloton into the short, but explosive, climb to the finish at a very hard pace, Jonas Vingegaard attacks, and is closely followed by Pogačar.

paris-nice23

3.8km: Vingegaard keeps pushing on the front and the two riders open a gap to the peloton behind, but when Pogačar looks at the camera and shows he isn’t in the least bit of trouble by smiling, we already know the race is over.

paris-nice23

Finish: Pogacar attacks and somewhat easily drops Vingegaard shortly after ‘The Smile’. He is joined by David Gaudu, but even after the French rider sits in his slipstream, he can’t hold Pogačar’s wheel as they approach the line and the Slovenian accelerates into the final few hundred meters to take the stage, and likely all-but-seal the overall title.

paris-nice23

Stage Results
1) Tadej Pogačar +0
2) David Gaudu +01
3) Gino Mäder +34

Current GC Standings
1) Tadej Pogačar +0
2) David Gaudu +10
3) Jonas Vingegaard +44

paris-nice23st4
Still a long way to the Tour

Takeaways Cont.

7) Tadej Pogačar is sinking Jonas Vingegaard’s GC chances by betting at every turn; consistently stacking up small time bonuses, time trialing & climbing

  • After two days of racing, Jonas Vingegaard hadn’t put a foot wrong, had been able to match Pogačar at key moments, yet was already 12 seconds back in a stage race where every second counts. Even worse for Vingegaard is that Pogačar weathered the TTT better than expected and has proved to be stronger on the climbs.
    • The combination of being able to build up a lead via time bonuses, time trialing and climbing shows the overwhelming raw power of Pogačar’s and why he can be so difficult to beat when fully fit.

paris-nice23 st4
Pogačar looking strong

8) Tadej Pogačar is far-and-away the best rider here, but does it really matter?

  • So far in 2023, Pogačar has clearly shown that he is far and away the best rider in the world and appears to be fit enough to win a historic run of races this Spring and Summer.
    • However, with weeks still between him and his major Spring races, and months before the Tour de France, one wonders if this is all a bit too much a bit too early (even if his UAE team says he is still only at 80% of his peak fitness).
    • Also, he might be winning major physiological battles over his archrival Jonas Vingegaard, but he was doing the same thing in the early half of 2022, and none of it seemed to rattle Vingegaard when they met at the Tour de France.

paris-nice23 st4
Gaudu is the real thing

9) Don’t sleep on David Gaudu

  • Pogačar might have fallen to an absurd -1100 odds (bet $100 to win $9) of winning the overall after the stage, but the 26-year-old French rider Gaudu is still only 10-second behind the leader with a long summit finish, and an unpredictable circuit race in Nice, looming on Saturday and Sunday.
  • With Gaudu looking this strong, and Paris-Nice serving up surprising final weekends over the past few years, don’t pencil Pogačar in the overall win just yet.

paris-nice23 st4
Early days for Tour lions

# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #

# All Paris-Nice and Tirreno Adriatico news with video in EUROTRASH. #

Like PEZ? Why not subscribe to our weekly newsletter to receive updates and reminders on what's cool in road cycling?

Comments are closed.