Van Hooydonck defends himself after bumping Matthews in Paris-Nice

 Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) at the head of the race in Paris-Nice on stage 2
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) at the head of the race in Paris-Nice on stage 2

It has long been predicted that the 2023 Paris-Nice would be a fierce battle between Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates, with the former team backing Jonas Vingegaard against his rival Tadej Pogačar.

Tensions appeared to come to a boil in an unexpected moment during the approach to the intermediate time bonus sprint on Monday's stage to Fontainebleau when Vingegaard's teammate Nathan Van Hooydonck appeared to body-check Michael Matthews (Jayco-AlUla).

The front-on camera shot at first glance appeared to show Matthews drawing alongside Van Hooydonck as UAE Team Emirates led with 13.6km to go and take a hard right into Matthews, causing the Australian to veer sharply and luckily had the skills to keep himself upright.

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Commentator José De Cauwer winced at the incident, saying Van Hooydonck should be careful because "VAR is watching" - referencing the UCI jury's relatively new video replay rules.

Van Hooydonck fell short of denying Pogačar the six-second time bonus, coming third behind Matthews. He later defended himself in response to Sporza's post about the clash.

"I was pushed myself, couldn't move. I don't think José has raced for a long time or needs glasses," the Belgian replied.

Upon closer inspection, one of the riders in Pogačar's lead-out train to Van Hooydonck's left can be seen moving to the right in response to a Groupama-FDJ rider attempting to insert himself in the bunch.

The resulting shoulder nudge to Van Hooydonck appears to be what sent him careening into Matthews, and the results show that the Jumbo-Visma rider was not penalized for his actions.

Pogačar won the sprint, putting himself 12 seconds ahead of Vingegaard in the overall standings ahead of Tuesday's team time trial.

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