Veteran Classics specialist Daniele Bennati and Movistar teammates Jose Rojas and Imanol Erviti face the arduous task of guiding not one, not two, but three team leaders across the Roubaix cobbles during today’s ninth stage of the Tour de France.
Movistar have gone all-in on their assault at the Tour de France this year, selecting Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde and Mikel Landa as joint team leaders in the hope that at least one of them can survive the expected carnage of the cobbles, remain well-placed in the overall classification and go on to fight for the yellow jersey.
With eight-man squads at this year’s race, Movistar has just five domestiques to help their big three leaders. Paris-Nice winner Marc Soler and Andrey Amador will play a key role in the mountains and so Bennati, Rojas and Erviti have been doing extra shifts in the first week on the roads of northern France to try to keep the ‘Three Tenors’ safe and limit any time losses.
Today, they face their biggest task on the 15 sectors and 21.7km of cobbles spread across the final 100km of the stage to Roubaix.
Movistar have opted for the simple strategy of assigning one Classics rider to each of their leaders, while also trying to ride together, with the ultimate aim of avoiding any crashes and mechanical problems and limiting any time losses. Bennati will be Quintana’s bodyguard, Erviti will help Valverde, while Rojas will lead Landa across the cobbles.
While the likes of Froome, Geraint Thomas, Vincenzo Nibali, Jakob Fuglsang and others are determined to test their rivals ability on the pave and trying to gain time, Movistar will ride defensively. They openly admit this is the worst, most dangerous stage of the Tour for them and the hope to get through it in one piece so they can finally open their wings and fight for overall victory in the Alps and Pyrenees.
“This is a really special stage for everyone, we all know that,” team manager Eusebio Unzue admitted.
“We’ll need a lot of luck and a lot of determination to stay on the wheels, in the hope that we can get through it okay and so fight on in the rest of the Tour. We hope to minimise any time loss so that we can make it up on more favourable terrain.”
“We’ve prepared and so we’re ready. Let’s hope that Mikel and Nairo can do okay. Valverde has ridden a lot of Classics over the years and so this stage could even suit him. We’ve got specialist like Bennati, Rojas, Erviti to help them, while Marc Soler will also do well. Remember he went in the long attack at Paris-Roubaix.”
Bennati has been a professional for 18 years and was Alberto Contador’s guardian angel in the Tour de France before joining Movistar. The Tuscan is pragmatic rather than emotional about the Roubaix stage
“It won’t be easy but we can do it. It’ll depend on what happens out on the road,” Bennati told Cyclingnews.
“Nairo lost time on stage 1 but he hasn’t lost his moral. Both Landa and Valverde are up there and we’ll continue with the same leadership tactic. We know we’ve got to be as united as possible so that we do as well as we can.
“For sure, we’ll lose some time because we can’t expect to stay with the spring Classics winners. Our goal is to finish with or near the other GC riders and teams. We’ll be celebrating if we manage to gain time on some of our rivals.”