Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) will get his first taste of the cobbles this season at Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday. With many of the Tour de France favourites riding the Volta a Catalunya this week, Valverde is the only one who will line up in these early cobbled classics.
The Belgian semi-classic will be the first time that Valverde has raced on the cobbles in his career, as he has favoured the tarmac of the Ardennes Classics. With the Tour de France taking on the formidable pavé this season the Spaniard is looking to get a taste of it before July.
With his inexperience on the pavé, Valverde will not be one of the big favourites in a line-up that includes the likes of Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and recent Milan-San Remo victor Alexander Kristoff (Katusha). Valverde will be guided through the race by Francisco Ventoso, Alex Dowsett and Imanol Erviti, who all rode both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix last year.
Stage 5 of the 2014 Tour de France from Ypres to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut includes 15.4km of pavé and takes on part of the Paris-Roubaix route. The riders will have to tackle the five starred Carrefour de l’Arbe and Mons-en-Pévèle along with seven other sections of pavé. The cobbles are set to bring an element of uncertainty to the opening week of the race, and may cause some trouble for the favourites.
Cobbles last featured in the 2010 Tour de France and spelled the end of some contender’s chances. Frank Schleck crashed out while a puncture meant that Lance Armstrong was forced to chase alone through the cars and lost over two minutes. Alberto Contador is one of the few GC contenders for this year’s race that took part four years ago, he finished just over one minute off the pace.
Of this year’s crop of Tour favourites only Valverde and Nibali have put themselves forward for taking on the pave in race conditions ahead of July, with many choosing to stick to the stage races. Nibali said in January that he would ride the Tour of Flanders in April, although it remains to be seen if he will take to the start line.
Valverde is also a potential starter for E3 Harelbeke on Friday, but that will depend on how his first experience on the pave goes. He is likely to only ride one of the cobbled classics this spring.