GHENT, Belgium (VN) — Chris Froome should handle the cobbles of the Tour de France’s ninth stage well after previewing the sectors with Team Sky’s experts last week.
The four-time Tour de France champion will try to defend his crown and go for a record-equalling fifth title this summer, but must conquer the 21.7 kilometers of cobbles to Roubaix on July 15.
“He looks good,” said former Paris-Roubaix winner and Sky sports director Servais Knaven. “We saw that in the past he can ride the cobbles, he did Roubaix when he was younger [in 2008 with Team Barloworld], so no, it all looked good. I am not nervous about it. I think it could be a good stage for him.”
When the Tour raced over the cobbles in 2015 in dry conditions, Froome defended himself. In 2014, rains fell overnight creating horrific conditions for the cobbled stage, but Frome abandoned beforehand due to crashes.
Because the ninth stage could shape the race overall, Froome is giving it as much attention as the summit finishes and time trials. On Wednesday, he joined Jonathan Castroviejo and cobble expert Geraint Thomas to preview the stage. They rode 120 kilometers and covered all 15 sectors. Behind, Knaven and Nicolas Portal followed in the team car.
“I think he took a bit of confidence away from the recon. It’s been three years since he was on them. He’s there on that new bike, there with G, they spoke a lot and about how to ride the cobbles,” Knaven added.
“We had a look on where you can go on the sides of the roads, and what can you do, you go there or not? Those things are pretty important, that’s why we are going back again and having a closer look. Sometimes you have to follow other riders and you need to know a little bit if that’s a good thing to do or not.
“They’re not really used to riding on the cobbles, they have to get used to the bikes and in general it’s about having confidence, and getting that feeling. It’s good to know the course, but of course, they will have the information from the car in the race. The most important thing is to get a bit of confidence on the cobbles.”
Froome tested the Pinarello K10s-DSS electronic suspension bike and tire pressure over the roads leading from Arras to Roubaix in northern France, where every year one-day stars fight for the famous cobbled trophy.
Froome must decide on high tire pressure and an uncomfortable ride, or lower pressure and a greater risk of a puncture. Those details should be sorted in a subsequent reconnaissance ride this summer.
“I’m happy the cobbles are in the Tour, it’s a part of France, part of the history of cycling, it’s a part of winning the Tour,” said Knaven, winner of the 2001 Paris-Roubaix. “Maybe it’s good to have them in all the years, then everyone is not that nervous about it and everyone has experience. At Team Sky, we are happy with the cobbles and we are going to do our best to get the whole team in the best condition there.”
Tour hopeful Mikel Landa (Movistar) raced E3 Harelbeke in Belgium on Friday to get a taste of the cobbles. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), and Movistar’s Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde will do the same thing Wednesday in Dwars door Vlaanderen. Knaven “doesn’t see any reason” to bring Froome to one of the one-day cobbled races this spring.
“Racing [here] has nothing to do with Roubaix, with the cobbles in the Tour. It’s totally different,” Knaven said.
“In my eyes, it’s not necessary. [The cobbles here are] nothing to do with the stage. Only thing is, the way of racing, the nervousness, and everything, that’s what you can get a feel for, but I think you also have that in Paris-Nice or in any race. That’s why our GC riders are not here.”