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Wednesday’s stage is a mini Paris-Roubaix with almost 20 kilometers of pavé across 11 sectors between Lille and Arenberg Port du Hainaut.
For many of the GC teams, it will be about surviving the day, but Ineos Grenadiers has a lineup that could see its overall contenders mixing it with the specialists. The team will have reigning Paris-Roubaix champion Dylan van Baarle to guide the way.
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“I’m pretty excited, to be honest, it’s pretty special that this year has a cobbled stage in the Tour again,” Van Baarle told VeloNews. “We have one of the strongest classics teams here. I think most of the guys here know how to ride the cobbles so, hopefully, that will be an advantage.”
Tom Pidcock is a former winner of the junior Paris-Roubaix while Luke Rowe has ridden the elite event nine times and took a top 10 finish at the 2015 event. Geraint Thomas, one of Ineos Grenadiers’ three GC contenders, has also ridden the “Hell of the North” six times, most recently in 2018.
The only other GC team with as deep a classics lineup is Jumbo-Visma, with Wout van Aert, Christophe Laporte, and Nathan Van Hooydonck. Given the way the team has ridden already, it’s likely that it will try to shake things up on the cobbles, but Thomas is ready for it.
“I guess, I’ve ridden Roubaix a lot. We’ve got a good team for it so, hopefully, we can make the most of that. Jumbo-Visma is strong, but it depends on how they race as well. Van Aert has his own goals, but we’re certainly not scared of them,” Thomas told VeloNews.
While in 2018, all of the main GC riders rolled in together at 27 seconds down on the day’s winner John Degenkolb, it did see Richie Porte crash out of the race and Chris Froome ended up in a grass verge. Porte actually came down well ahead of the first cobbled sector but the tension before the pack hits the pavé can be almost as dangerous as the stones themselves.
Back in 2014, the visit to the cobbles saw Vincenzo Nibali take nearly two minutes on most of his rivals while Chris Froome crashed out ahead of the opening cobbled sector.
‘It’s going to be eventful whatever happens’
Thomas would like to have a go and take it to the other GC teams, but he says that it will depend on the weather conditions. He’s also not convinced that there will be major time gaps between the overall contenders on the cobbles.
“If there’s an opportunity then yes. If there’s a headwind on the cobbles most of the day it will be different. We’ll see,” he said. “It’s going to be eventful whatever happens but when you look at ’18 and ’14 when we did the cobbles, there was no real change in the GC, it’s more about the energy that people spend that they pay for later in the race rather than on the results sheet at the end of the day. But that’s not to say it won’t change tomorrow.”
The wind is very changeable throughout Wednesday and there could be a mixture of crosswinds and headwinds on the pavé. However, it is only going to be a maximum of around 11mph so it may not be strong enough to make a big difference.
Ineos Grenadiers comes into the cobbled stage with a little bit of time to makeup after the opening time trial, but it’s still well in contention ahead of the big mountains later this week.
Yates is the lead GC man for the team at 48 seconds off current race leader Van Aert and 16 seconds off defending champion Tadej Pogačar. Dani Martínez is a further 22 seconds back, while Thomas is sandwiched in the middle at 50 seconds off Van Aert after a slightly disappointing opening TT.
“It’s been alright, it was a bit of a mess-up in the TT with the whole gilet stuff but the legs felt good, which was the main thing,” Thomas said. “The last few days haven’t been what we expected with the wind. The direction hasn’t been in the right way and [on Sunday] there was no real strength in it, so it was a bit of an anti-climax in that regard. There’s a hell of a lot of racing still to come so it’s kind of refreshing not to be as stressed as normal.”