Paris Nice 2021 – Stage 4 preview

By David Hunter

Chalon-sur-Saône›Chiroubles(187.6km)

This is what you call a proper stage.

It might not have a high mountain, but this stage is one that could live long in memory, the route is amazing. We have four cat 2 climbs before we even get to the main section of the day.

The Climbs

The first ascent of Mount Brouilly comes with just under 70km to go. I remember this climb well from 2014, it is very steep and will see lots of riders put into difficulty. For those younger than me you might remember it being used in the 2017 ITT when Julian Alaphilippe blew everyone away. 3km at 7.8% doesn’t really do it justice, the second half of the climb is very demanding.

The next climb is Col de Durbize, which includes some nasty gradients and we’re on very narrow farm roads. You can see that the climb includes two incredibly steep sections, with the first intermediate sprint of the day coming at the crest of the climb with 48km to go.

The riders then loop around and head back to Mount Brouilly, the crest of the second ascent comes with just over 20km to go. They then head back to Col de Durbize, but this time they do an extra section up to the finishing line.

We have the second intermediate sprint coming in the same position as the first, which is just 3km from the end of the stage. The final 3km is the “new” bit of the climb, it averages 5.5%, but it is quite tough near the finishing line. This is a brilliant end to what could be one of the stages of the year.

Weather

A lovely day for a bike ride. Temperatures will be up on previous days and there is no wind to speak of.

Tactics

This stage has lots of intense climbing, the front group will gradually be slimmed down during the finale, leaving a small group for the final climb. This means that controlling the final 10km is going to be very complicated and if any team has numbers in the front group they’ll have a tactical advantage over the rest.

The approach by EF will be interesting, as Bissegger won’t be in yellow at the end of the day. Will they honour the jersey? I would expect them to do so, probably until the first-time up Mount Brouilly, then it will be up to the GC teams to take control, but don’t expect much action until the second ascent of the climb. From the top of the climb there is just over 20km to go, so teams with multiple options might look to go long and put pressure on their rivals.

The team who are likely to control the chaos is Jumbo-Visma. The TT showed they have riders in good form, but they only have three climbing domestiques to support Roglič. They will hope that the pace won’t be too high early on, allowing them to save Hofstede, Bennett and Kruijswijk for the finale of the race. If this happens, they have the strength to control things until close to the end, which is perfect for Roglič. If the pace is high from early on it will force the squad to use someone like Hofstede early, meaning one less to control the finale. This scenario would leave us with a very exciting finish to the stage.

DS Cycling Mole

After my glorious success with Team DSM, they’ve asked me back for this stage, they even paid my bar bill.

Lads the legend is back, so sit down and shut up. We have two times up Mount Brouilly and two times up some wee steep climb with a funny name. SKA, first time up the funny named climb is when I want you to attack. Pin back your ears and fly like the wind. Hindo, I want you to attack 2nd time up Brouilly, hopefully bridging across to the SKA man. Tiesj, sit tight in the bunch, let those Jumbo Bees do the chasing. When they inevitably bring it all back together, you move on the final climb. Remember, you’re the man, you can wipe the floor with the rest of these guys. Do it for the team, do it for me, but above all else do it for my mum!

Contenders

Michael Matthews – this is a man who has previous with Mount Brouilly. Back in 2014 he won the bunch sprint for 4th behind Slagter, Thomas and Kelderman. Then in the TT in 2017 he finished in a very respectable 7th place. Over the years Bling has improved as a climber, but still managed to remain a fast finisher. This stage is very demanding, but if you remember back to the world championships he only missed being in the front group by a handful of metres, he really does cope well with steep inclines. In a similarly tough stage last year he won the bunch sprint for 2nd behind his teammate Tiesj Benoot, this stage could be within his capabilities. However, in his post-race interview today he seemed to be talking down his chances, maybe he’s not confident about his current shape.

Primož Roglič – he looked incredibly good today, an ominous sign for everyone else. Jumbo-Visma are here to win the yellow jersey, I expect them to control the stage and not let any dangerous GC riders up the road. Given the uphill finish, Roglič will back himself to win the stage if it comes down to a GC sprint. You never know, he might actually sense a chance to attack and try to put more time into his main rivals.

DSM – they have two clear options with Benoot and Hindley. The team were brilliant in 2020 in stages just like this, they regularly got their tactics spot on. Benoot will love the look of this stage, he’ll be hoping to distance the pure climbers on some of the punchy climbs. The team also have Kragh Andersen to raise the pace on some of the early climbs.

Astana – another squad who have two good options for this stage. Lutsenko will love the look of this one, especially as he now seems to have hit form. He might even get a little freedom from the main GC riders as they’ll expect to take time back from him on Saturday. They also have Vlasov, who put in a cheeky attack in the opening stage. He’ll likely be a marked man, but having two good options gives the team an advantage over most others.

Bora – the theme of having two good riders continues, as they arrive with Schachmann and Großschartner. The rolling nature of the hills is great for a punchy rider like Schachmann, especially if we get some type of sprint, the German has a great kick in an uphill finish. Großschartner will likely ride as a support rider, but he’s one who shouldn’t be underestimated.

AG2R – why come with two options when you can have three? Jungels, O’Connor and Paret-Peintre might not be the biggest favourites, but all three are good enough to win this stage. I would favour O’Connor as he’s looked good in recent races and isn’t afraid of riding an attacking race.

Dylan Teuns – when the road goes over 10% he’s one of the best in the world. He was 4th in the uphill sprint in Provence, so he’s clearly got good legs which must be a massive relief after a tough 2020. He’ll love the look of this stage; it’s a great one for him and he must start as one of the favourites. Bahrain also have Jack Haig, who should be part of the front group, having him as a back-up is a good alternative.

David Gaudu – the big French hope. After an impressive start to the season, Gaudu will approach this stage with confidence. He was good in Haut Var, but even better in winning the Ardèche Classic. Gaudu loves steep gradients, the finish to the stage is very good for him, and as he lost some time in the TT he might just get a free pass from the main favourites. It will be interesting to see how he approaches the finish; I like him when he rides on instinct.

Matteo Jorgenson – after appearing in my preview, I have to include Matteo in this section. His performance in Provence was very encouraging, I’m genuinely excited to see what he can do in this stage, it suits him much better than the mountaintop finish.

Prediction Time

Will we see an inevitable Roglič win? Will someone be able to escape in the closing 5km? Will we see a surprise? I’ll go with my boy Tiesj Benoot.

David Hunter

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