Words by Peter Cossins | Photo by Peter Cossins
Although not everyone was in favour, even at winners Jumbo-Visma, most agreed the “individual” TTT aspect made for a more fascinating watch
Although the time trial purists were not wholly swayed by the new format for the team time trial that was employed at Paris-Nice today, there was general agreement among riders and directors that it served up a more testing tactical examination of their powers of team work and also provided a very different and perhaps more interesting spectacle for fans. Under the format, riders were timed individually for the 32.2-kilometre TTT at Dampierre-en-Burly, offering teams the opportunity to lead out their GC contenders going into the final 300-metre-long rise to the line or to stick with the standard approach of taking a group of riders up to the finish in the hope of maintaining more speed.
Stage winners Jumbo-Visma, who went for the second approach and beat EF Education-Easypost (pictured warming up) into second place by a second and Jayco-Alula into third by four, fielded Nathan Van Hooydonck and their head of performance Mathieu Heijboer in the post-stage press conference.
Van Hooydonck revealed that the Dutch team had held back Jan Tratnik so that he could lead out Jonas Vingegaard on the final rise to the line. Asked about how the new format had changed their tactics, Van Hooydonck replied: “It doesn’t make a really big difference if you finish with four or five riders or if you’re alone. The difference comes in the last few kilometres, where it’s perhaps more exciting to watch on television because you can see a real lead-out being done for GC riders.”
The Belgian said he thought the new system is worth another go, but added: “In the end, I think it’s something they can keep. But if they do change back, it’s fine by me. I don’t think the format really matters.”
Heijboer suggested there are pros and cons to the format. After confirming that the black curtain that had been put around the team while they warmed up close to the start wasn’t intended to hide any technical secrets or innovations but simply to provide “a quiet environment for the riders with not too many spectators and no distractions,” he indicated that the test had posed teams with new tactical questions and that the inclusion of hills on a course would trigger more still.
“On this specific stage, we had big engines like Nathan, Edoardo Affini and Rohan Dennis, and for sure Jonas cannot go faster than them on the flat, so we had to keep them as long as possible with Jonas. If there were more hills or even mountains, the tactics would be different. We’d maybe keep some riders at the back so that they could make a good effort on the hills,” he explained. Had he liked it overall? “Not today. I think we were stronger as a team. If we’d have needed to finish with four we would have had a bigger margin of victory,” he said.
Magnus Cort, who finished alone for EF in a time a second slower than Jumbo’s, admitted that it was quite an unusual feeling to finish a TTT on his own off the front, but gave the format a thumbs-up. “I think it’s good to do it differently. It’s a little bit different at the finish line. I haven’t seen yet what other teams did, but for me sprinting up the last 400 metres was something that suits me well. I don’t know how it looks on TV but with the old format you’d have to have four or five guys at the finish and they’d take it that little bit more carefully on that last kicker. But I liked it like this,” said the Dane.
“I think we did really well in sticking to the plan we’d discussed in the bus. Obviously, there’s always small things because you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. But we rode very, very well and lost the guys we talked about losing and keeping the guys we wanted for the final. I think everybody played their part today.”
His only criticism was the fact that he wasn’t able to share the reward of getting the race leader’s yellow jersey with his teammates. “Being there on the podium I was very happy getting the yellow jersey, but there was a little bit of an empty feeling as well because getting me in the yellow jersey really was a team effort,” he explained. “I’m a bit sad that I couldn’t share the moment with the rest of my teammates because obviously I could never have done this without the whole team backing me up. They deserve it as much as me.”
Cort’s team director Charly Wegelius was unequivocal in his support for the format. “I think it’s great that the sport has taken the chance that it has to mix things up and try something new. It definitely gave us teams something to think about, weighing up the different options about what we could do and how it would play out. I hope it made for a good show, but I think it’s great that we try things that are a little bit new,” said Wegelius.
Race favourite Tadej Pogačar, who looked like a bunch sprinter when he came off UAE Team Emirates teammate Mikkel Bjerg’s wheel on the final incline, said he was happy a performance that saw him lose 23 seconds to 2022 Tour de France winner and main rival Vingegaard. “I really, really like the team time trial,” he told the press as he sat on the steps of his team bus. “I wish there could be more, and today I enjoyed it, it was really a fun experience.
“I know that we could have done better but I’m really satisfied with the performance, we really pushed our maximum. Tim [Wellens] has come from Strade Bianche and I could see that he was a bit tired still. And we received the bikes only a few days before the race also, so in the end and considering everything we did a really good job. We are in the perfect place now for the rest of the race. I’m really happy that we can relax a bit as we’re coming from behind and we can use this to our advantage. In one way I’m more relaxed, in another I’m under more pressure.”