- - Paris-Nice 2023 Stage 1

Paris-Nice 2023 Stage 1

photo credits @ WTFK

Tim Merlier (Soudal-QuickStep) sprinted to victory on the opening stage of the 2023 edition of Paris-Nice on Sunday, taking his fourth win of the young season in La Verrière to the southwest of Paris.

The 30-year-old Belgian out-kicked Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) at the end of a stage that did see at least a glimmer of GC action, as the likes of Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) and Tadej Pogačar himself (UAE-Team Emirates) tried their luck with big surges on the rolling climbs on the run-in to the finish.

Although none of the GC contenders were able to make their attacks stick for long, Pogačar was able to pick up six bonus seconds on the final climb, gaining an early advantage over rivals like Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) in the overall battle

“It’s a strong team and they believed in me today. It was a great lead out,” Merlier said.

“It was a hard day definitely because a there was a lot of stress in the peloton. There was a steep climb 19 kilometers from the finish that was also big tactically. We had two men in there, and then we came back on the last climb. I survived well. Then Kasper Asgreen brought me to the front. From there on, the team kept working together, and I can’t say how great it was to be in this train.”

Race Highlights

Paul Ourselin (TotalEnergies) and Denmark’s Jonas Gregaard (Uno-X) broke clear after 16 km to form the early break of the day. Their lead topped at 3 minutes and 45 seconds at kilometer 35 and the bunch, led by Lotto Dstny and Alpecin Deceuninck riders, maintained a safe three-minute gap to the front pair.

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 kilometers further, Ourselin and Gregaard were reined in after more than 120 km leading the race.

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 small hill with 20 km to go and the peloton split. Pogačar was on the American’s heels with Arnaud Demare and a group of 27 riders broke clear, taking some favorites like Dani Martinez or Simon Yates off-guard.

The bunch regrouped with 16 km to go, but the tireless Powless surged again. Winner of GP La Marseillaise earlier this season, the American held the pack at bay until 7 km from the line.

That was where the only intermediate sprint of the day took place, and Pogačar surged to pick the six seconds up for grabs. France’s Pierre Latour jumped behind him and the two were quickly joined by Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) at the front. Latour and Pogačar were keen to continue the push to a potential stage win, but Vingegaard sat on, meaning Pogačar had little reason to continue.

While the two pre-race favorites finally waited for the pack, Latour went on. But he was run down in the last two kilometers as the peloton was gearing up for the bunch sprint. Merlier’s Soudal-QuickStep team-mate Florian Senechal attacked under flame rouge, disorganizing the sprint for their rivals, and paving the way for his leader’s show of strength.

Sam Bennett (BORA-hansgrohe) led the sprint out and had a favorable line through the final bend to the line, but he was run down by Merlier, with Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) third.

Pogačar leads the young rider’s classification and took the first bragging rights in the battle for the general classification as Vingegaard missed on taking any bonus seconds.

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