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CALAIS, France (VN) — John Degenkolb (Team DSM) believes that the cobbles deserve a place in the Tour de France, saying that a top GC rider should be able to master them.
The Tour de France will return to the pavé on Wednesday for the first time since 2018 and it was Degenkolb that took the victory that time, winning from a group of three that included Greg Van Avermaet and Yves Lampaert.
Cobbles at the Tour de France are a contentious issue, and they pose a big threat to the GC riders, who rarely race on them. Many of this year’s contenders, including Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič, took to the pavé earlier this year to prepare themselves for what was to come this summer.
Degenkolb knows that the cobbles can be a scary prospect for non-classics riders, but he says that he’s equally as worried about some of the big mountain stages to come later in the race.
“It is something very special but when you look back in the history of the Tour de France, it is a part of cycling and it also belongs, from time to time, in a stage race like this,” Degenkolb said. “The winner of the Tour de France should be able to ride on the cobbles. I am aware that many guys are going with the feeling of fear into the stage, but in the end, I also have the fear for the Alpe d’Huez stage so we kind of have to come to the same point.”
Degenkolb has been thinking about this cobbled stage for some time now and went out to view the route in the spring. While Wednesday’s stage will give a bit of the flavor of the classics, riders will have to be prepared for a very different race to normal.
“I had a look on the stage, and I did a recon, when we were doing the classics, it was great to see it them already, the parcours and the sectors,” he said. “It is completely different to having a race during the classics compared to the Tour, with the stress. It will be crazy, like every year. If you go to the back of the peloton to get some bottles you will not make it back up because everyone fights for their position and will not let anyone pass in the peloton.”
Degenkolb hopes that the different nuances that a Tour de France cobbles stage has to the regular Paris-Roubaix will play in his favor when fighting for the stage victory. While he is happy to get stuck in on the pavé, many of his usual rivals will be taking care of their GC men and will have to dial back their usual instincts when it comes to the classics terrain.
“There is a big difference to approaching the stage, the tactics are completely different. Many classics specialist riders are having the task to protect their captain for the GC,” he said. “When you look back in 2018, there were three guys in front, and in the end, in the back, there was nobody to pull for the stage victory because they were happy the stress was released, and most likely there’ll be a similar scenario today.”
The right setup is always key in cycling, but it is rarely more important on the rough cobbled roads of northern France. Making sure the equipment will be up to the job is crucial if you want to win, or avoid losing time. As a regular on the pavé, Degenkolb knows what he likes.
“Everyone has their own preference. We will go for 30mm tubular tires again. I will go on the [Scott] Addict because I had good experiences with it,” Degenkolb said. “We haven’t tested the Foil on the cobbles so that is the safest version. It is a day where everything has to be 100 percent and you have to cut off all of the risks. If you take additional risks it can go wrong and we don’t want that to happen in the Tour. That’s why I will use the same bike as I did in Roubaix. I’m really looking forward to it.”