Philippe Gilbert in stage 4 of the 2020 Paris-Nice. Photo: James Startt

Photographs: James Startt

Despite the many rumors regarding the coronavirus and how it will affect professional cycling, stage four of Paris-Nice was really about racing as the 130 riders in the race attacked the 15.1-kilometer stage four time trial. Known as the race of truth, the mid-race time trial gave the overall race favorites the first opportunity to show their strengths.

While top favorites like Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali, Frenchman Thibaut Pinot, and Colombian Sergio Higuita all moved up in the rankings, the biggest surprise of the day came from the current yellow jersey holder Maximilian Schachmann, who finished second to Danish rider Soren Kragh Anderson, and increased his lead.

Few thought anyone would touch Kragh Andersen after he became the first rider to finish under 19 minutes on the hilly and highly technical course, handily dusting TT specialists like Danish national champion Kasper Asgreen, or world hour record holder Victor Campenaerts. But Schachman was the only other rider to finish under 19 minutes, extending his lead over race favorites by over a minute.

Of course, there are other potential contenders for the final title. But many lost time in the brutal opening stages filled with wind and rain. Colombian Nairo Quintana, and Frenchman Romain Bardet crashed on previous stages, and Julian Alaphilippe, who was racing in his hometown today, lost time due to an untimely flat on stage two.

Paris-Nice will move into the mountains in the coming days, and all bets are off regarding the eventual winner. Sure Schachmann cannot climb in the same league as Nibali or Higuita, but the climbs around Nice are not the high mountains, either. And Schachmann is clearly not going to give up his lead easily, and may just be harder to shake than many think.