The cobbled stage, the pavé of Paris-Roubaix meets the Tour de France and this time the defining feature is the severity of the sections. There are two races today, one for the stage win and the other against disaster for the GC contenders.
Cape Canaveral: NASA has Cape Canaveral as its launch site, Jumbo-Visma picked Cap Blanc-Nez for theirs. Ineos and Jumbo-Visma led into the final climb and, using the corners into the climb and then the slope, split the field. For a moment Wout van Aert, Primož Roglič, Jonas Vingegaard were riding away with Adam Yates, Dani Martinez and Geraint Thomas. But the pace set by Nathan “Space X” Van Hooydonck and then Tiesj “Saturn V” Benoot and was so much that Roglič cracked, then Thomas and soon Vingegaard until Van Aert was away solo. It was an astonishing ride, yes going into the climb first meant the bends made those behind struggle but he just rode away from the entire Tour de France field.
The rest of the stage wasn’t too much to write home about. Magnus Cort went clear again, this time he had Anthony Perez for company but Perez was powerless to stop Cort from taking many more mountains competition points. Even Perez said he was surprised nobody else joined them, adding that Cort’s presence might have deterred others given the Dane is too good for these uphill sprints.
Van Aert now leads on GC by 25 seconds and has a 61 point lead in the points competition already, a whole sprint stage win clear already. Christophe Laporte sprinted to third place yesterday to mop up some points. This lead in green, already, is consequential as it’ll free him up for more team work for his GC leaders* in the Alps and Pyrenees.
- *GC leaders as in plural by the way because it was noticeable that Roglič was floundering today, although if he was visibly in difficulty… many rivals weren’t even in the picture. Roglič started the final climb further back. Vingegaard also was in the red when if he could have stayed with Van Aert he’d have had a taxi ride to the finish and a lead on his rivals
The Route: 153km from Lille to Arenberg. This is not Paris-Roubaix because it isn’t a 250km slog, but there are more similarities than ever. The Tour has long used cobbled sectors when visiting the Nord. In 2014 and 2015 the race had 13km of pavé, in 2018 there was 21km but the sectors have often been more gentle ones. But today has 18km and some of the sectors are very hard with rougher cobbles. Like Paris-Roubaix, ASO have given the 11 sectors star ratings and today there are two two star sectors, the rest are all three and four stars.
All the sectors come in the second half of the stage. It begins with a three star sector and then a 16km breather before a two star sector starts an intense section of the race. As ever the cobbles are tough but the winning move can equally go on tarmac when riders are gasping for air.
The Finish: the Pont Gibus pavé section and then it’s onto the tarmac in Wallers and the same roads used in Paris-Roubaix on the approach to Arenberg and the finish is outside the old mining complex.
The Contenders: Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuinck) has been targetting this stage for a long time and he’s free to race while others have GC leaders to tow around. His biggest worry ought to be himself, he’s prone to biting off more than he can chew sometimes, when racing is, as Hennie Kuiper quipped, “licking your opponent’s plate clean before starting on your own”. Jasper Philipsen is in great shape too and more than sprinter, he can thrive today while other sprinters struggle.
Mads Pedersen and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) have been working together in the sprints and can do the same today, perhaps this time Pedersen can take a turn for Stuyven.
Who’d bet against Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma)? He’s also on team duties but if offence is the best form of defence then he could well try to tow his GC leaders clear and then go for the stage win along the way. Christophe Laporte is also looking very handy right now.
Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies) is riding well and an outside pick but Van der Poel and Van Aert are eating his lunch these days.
Florian Sénéchal (Quick-Step) is the local pick and he packs a good sprint but not one where you’d count on him to smoke MvdP or WvA. Quick-Step can try to revert to their numbers game and fire riders up the road with Yves Lampaert and Kasper Asgreen as cards to play but they’re even slower in a sprint.
Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) is in great shape but how to win, his rare road race triumphs tend to come in the rain as well and he’s on duty for David Gaudu. This is true for many other GC contenders, Nils Politt (Bora-hansgrohe) could barge clear for the win but is surely on hand as a bodyguard for Aleksandr Vlasov. Stefan Bissegger had a shocker in Copenhagen and packs a decent sprint but is he helping Uràn and Powless today? Ineos have a strong team but Filippo Ganna could be on team duties, likewise Dylan van Baarle who’d prefer a 250km course too so perhaps Tom Pidcock can play the joker card?
Finally never say never for Tadej Pogačar (UAE) who many see as capable of winning Paris-Roubaix one day so he can thrive today too. But Mikkel Bjerg was dropped yesterday when he should have been a precious ally. Either the Dane is saving energy to be even more useful today or Pogi is in trouble when it comes to support.
|Mathieu van der Poel
|Wva, Sagan, Laporte, Pedersen
|Philipsen, Sénéchal, Stuyven, Lampaert, Pidcock, Bissegger
Weather: DRY. Mainly sunny, 23°C and 15km/h breeze from the NW
TV: there’s a long neutral section and the racing starts at 2.00pm CEST and the finish is forecast for 5.25pm CEST. The first pavé comes around 3.45pm, tune in ahead of this to watch the contest for position.
Pavé or not to pavé? The use of Paris-Roubaix’s cobbles during the Tour often sees reheated debates about whether the stones have their place or not in the Tour de France: you can make plead both cases quite easily. One thing that’s changed in recent years is the peloton is on wider tires, 25mm is thin these days, it can be 28mm or even 30mm for a normal road stage which makes the cobbles much more rideable. But yes or no to pavé should not be a dichotomous matter, instead it’s a matter of degree. This is where today’s stage comes in, it’s got Paris-Roubaix pavé and gnarlier sections too. So the yes/no issue is too simple a way to look at it, it’s more a matter of how much.
Food and drink: with the race staying the Nord for another day, after frites yesterday another local dish is fricadelle (photo via Flickr’s ItsOlf) and an interesting cross-border meal as you’ll find it in northern France and then beyond to the north into Belgium and the Netherlands – frikandel – but you won’t get it much further south of today’s race route. Often sold alongside frites, it’s a sausage similar to a hot dog and made from mechanically recovered meat, it can even be a combination of chicken, pork and horse meat. Then it’s deep fried. Bon appétit!