Vincenzo Nibali also finishes in the select lead group and takes time on some of his rivals in another cold, wet, and windy stage in Paris-Nice.
The classics squad rallied together in a windy and stressful stage two at Paris-Nice to help create a small, select group of 11 riders that arrived at the finish. While the team missed the ultimate goal of victory, it was a highly successful day as Jasper Stuyven sprinted to third and Vincenzo Nibali finished in seventh and gained valuable time on many general classification contenders.
“A lot of us expected the echelons to begin earlier, and it should have been drier today,” said Stuyven. “So it was another wet, cold day. The finale came on really small roads, and we were well-organized there. You could see with the splits that the peloton was nervous and tired. We had good numbers in front, and we were able to make the group smaller.”
The winds were not as strong as the previous day, but after a second straight day in the cold and rain, it was enough to shatter the peloton under the constant pressure applied in the front.
“The wind wasn’t super strong, but already before one time when the bunch accelerated, Steven (de Jongh, director) said in the radio that in the back it was a big struggle so that for me was a sign that it was harder than maybe we thought. You never know how the legs react when it’s cold and rainy all day, and yesterday as well,” said Stuyven.
Vincenzo Nibali was in good hands with Alex Kirsch, Mads Pedersen, and Jasper Stuyven all represented in the leading group that had pared to around 35 in the final kilometers.
When word came from director Steven de Jongh that another crosswind section was coming with 10 kilometers remaining, the Trek-Segafredo classics team went to work, with Mads Pedersen leading the way.
“Steven told us in the radio that a crosswind was coming, and we went to the front and that paid off quite well as Jasper finished third and we took some time in the GC,” said Pedersen, who did the lion’s share of the work in the last kilometers. “In the end, we did not win, but a successful day and we are happy with it.
“I am here to build up some form for the classics, and also help out Nibali in the GC same as I did in Australia with Porte, and I had some rough days there too. But it’s a little more enjoyable to do it in the crosswinds,” Pedersen smiled.
“Nibali has so much experience, and you can learn a lot from him. It’s definitely cool to have him in the team – he’s a calm guy – and it’s not that often that you see a climber like him sitting with us in an echelon. That was nice,” he added.
After emptying his tank, Pedersen gave way to the Bora-hansgrohe team, who still had four riders in the lead group. In the end, it was former Trek-Segafredo rider Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT) who spoiled their party, taking the win over Pascal Ackermann as Stuyven rounded out the top three.
“I had a good position but I think I made a small mistake following the wrong wheel, and because of this, I blocked myself in a bit,” explained Stuyven about the sprint. “I had the feeling that I could have done better, especially after such a day, and the condition I have at the moment. I am not going to complain about third, but if you feel that there was a better result possible, then it’s also a small disappointment. But it was definitely nice to see the team there again, really strong, making a good result, and with Vincenzo also in a good position for the GC at the moment.”
For Vincenzo Nibali, having the team’s classics squad around him these first two days in France has paid off. With the climbs still to come, Nibali sits in 9th overall, 28 seconds in arrears, while some of his biggest rivals have suffered under the extreme conditions.
“We all suffered the cold and rain again today. In the last 40kms, we knew they could be the most tricky for the wind. The team was perfect, helping me to avoid the biggest risks and keep me in front. Kirsch, Stuyven, and Pedersen were great. When I saw Mads after the stage, I told him he was a beast; he showed incredible strength!” said Nibali.
“I am happy another stressful day is done,” NIbali continued. “These two stages were good but tough. I’m a climber but have learned to be a versatile rider so I’m able to adapt to situations on days like these, typical of a classic. But today, above all, the enormous work of the team helped me.
“It’s true that some of the competitors for the final classification lost time today, but I want to stay with the feet on the ground and continue to live the race day after day. I’m feeling good and having fun with this team, which I think you can see.
“I have worked very well these months, and the team has given me a lot of peace of mind and support. There’s a good mood in the team, and that certainly helped me to reach this peak of form at the start of the season. Now I’m thinking about taking advantage of my good condition and getting the best possible results.
“But we’ll have to figure out what the rest of the season will be like. With the problems that the Coronavirus is bringing to Europe, it’s complicated to make predictions; you have to live this situation week by week. It is difficult to think too much about the future; I hope that we can return to normal as soon as possible. I want to say to all the fans to kindly please be responsible for the well-being of all and keep a safe distance.”
Paris-Nice continues tomorrow with another flat stage targeting the sprinters ahead of a 15-kilometer individual time trial scheduled for Wednesday. If the weather conditions continue, the GC may well be set before the race even enters the hills in the final four stages.