When the Tour de France last encountered the cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix in 2010, Alberto Contador conceded 1:13 to then-rivals Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans. This year, he is hoping that his Tinkoff-Saxo team will protect him in what is expected to be absolutely brutal conditions - with rain and wind creating a kind of hazard most of the riders of the current peloton have not encountered in their careers.
Back in 2010, Schleck had the assistance of pavé expert Fabian Cancellara, and the Swiss rider sacrificed his ambitions to win the stage to help his teammate. This year, Contador's competitors such as Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) each have Classics specialists at their sides - Paris-Roubaix winners Johan Vansummeren and Niki Terpstra, respectively, and will be looking to profit from their experience.
Contador has no such specialist at his side, but his Tinkoff-Saxo teammates have ridden defensively, often trading elbows with the sprinters' lead-out trains, in the first four stages. He expects they will continue to do so en route to Arenberg.
"The last days has been nervous with great risk throughout the stages. And today the crosswind was a factor as well forcing us to be well positioned. My feeling is that I wasn't further down than 20th position in the peloton during the entire stage. That kept me safe and is a direct result of the work of my teammates," Contador said, pointing out that the fight was not only to stay out of trouble. The team car moved into fifth position in the caravan thanks to today's results. "We didn't crash, but we had to eat a lot of wind to keep our positions. I gained two positions today, which means that we'll have our team car closer to us", said Contador.
Looking ahead to the 155.5km stage from Ypres to the gateway to the Arenberg Forest, Contador like all the riders fears the nine sectors of pave which, according to predictions, will be made as slick as ice when soaked in a steady rain. The peloton could also be shredded by a howling wind that in the past has cost Contador time on his rivals.
"I will cross my fingers for tomorrow - it will be a really difficult day," Contador said. "The weather forecast is very bad. Already without bad weather it will be a complicated stage but with rain it will be like ice-skating with bikes. We will have winds of about 30 km/h, which might cut the peloton into pieces even before the cobblestones. But we are concentrated and we'll ride the sections together as a team."