Tadej Pogačar fell just short of taking the yellow jersey on stage 2 of Paris-Nice in Fontainebleau, but he stole another march on Jonas Vingegaard and his overall rivals by claiming six more bonus seconds in the intermediate sprint.
It was the second time in as many days that Pogačar won the stage’s lone intermediate sprint, and he now lies second overall, just two seconds behind maillot jaune Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) and already a dozen seconds ahead of Vingegaard.
“It could be really, really important or it could be that it doesn’t matter at all at the end, you never know,” Pogačar told reporters afterwards.
“But normally, in cycling these days, every second counts.”
Pogačar has always had a penchant for aggressive racing, but that tendency has appeared even more pronounced in the opening weeks of this season. The Slovenian began his campaign with a solo victory at the Clásica Jaén Paraiso Interior before rattling off a hat-trick of stage wins during his dominant overall triumph at the Vuelta a Andalucía.
After enjoying a rally off the front on the opening day of Paris-Nice, Pogačar limited himself to contesting – and winning – the intermediate sprint with a shade under 13km remaining on stage 2.
His UAE Team Emirates companion Tim Wellens provided the lead-out and Pogačar then delivered a crisp sprint to claim the sprint ahead of his friend Michael Matthews (Jayco-Alula) and Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), who was trying to limit the damage on Vingegaard’s behalf.
“I gave my best, and I guess my best sprint at that point,” said Pogačar, who is the best placed of the overall contenders ahead of Tuesday’s 32.2km team time trial around Dampierre-en-Burly.
“The team really did great and I’m really happy that I gained a small margin. I can be more relaxed tomorrow, because it’s going to be a really tough team time trial, and we gain a bit more confidence with that.”
Despite Pogačar’s proximity to the yellow jersey, UAE Team Emirates’ position in the team standings mean that they will set out before Vingegaard’s Jumbo-Visma squad on stage 3, even if he downplayed the significance of their start time.
“I don’t know the order yet, but I think it doesn’t matter because it’s quite a long TT and you cannot check the rest of the teams,” he said. “You just need to focus on yourself and your team and do a perfect job.”
This team time trial sees a tweak to the normal regulations, with the clock stopping on the first rider…
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