The final stage before the Tour de France's first rest day has been building in anticipation since this year's race route was announced last October and while some Classics specialists will relish a July jaunt on the cobbles, the GC contenders will be less excited about the prospect of stage 9 of the race.
Tensions have run high for the GC contenders during the first eight stages of the race so far, with Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) one of a number of those caught behind a crash on stage 1, while Chris Froome (Team Sky), Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates), Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) and Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) have all lost time in separate incidents.
Yates is 1:06 down on leader Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), on the same time as defending champion Chris Froome, while Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) remains the best-placed contender, seven seconds down in second place.
Yates, however, remains confident in the strength in the Mitchelton-Scott squad to get through the stage before the race heads to the Alps, with the Briton unequivocal in his preparations for the stage.
"I've reconned [the stage] three times so that's enough," Yates told Cyclingnews and the BBC after stage 8. "It's pretty tough, tougher than I expected when the route was announced, but look, I've got a super strong team around me and we're going to do everything we can to stay out of trouble. Everyone needs a bit of luck tomorrow, all the GC guys especially, let's just hope there are not too many crashes and we stay safe out there."
"If you looked at our team time trial, it was pretty impressive there. The guys trust me as well, we all have a joke that I like to stay at the back but when it's game on, I'll be in the position when it's the critical moment, like I said earlier we just need a bit of luck on our side and that's all you can ask for."
Having raced on the cobbles before as a junior and at under-23 levels and combined with Mitchelton-Scott's meticulous preparations for the stage, Yates will know he is in the best position he can be for the stage.
In Classics specialists Luke Durbridge and Mathew Hayman, Yates' teammates know they will be there to make sure he gets to the finish line in the best possible time.
"Not loads, but it's not the first time I've ever been on cobbles. I raced as an under-23 and a junior on the cobbles so it's not like it's fresh, not like it's the first time I've ever raced on them. I'm just not that big, that is the biggest problem, I'm not that heavy.
"[Hayman and Durbridge are telling me] to stay out of trouble, stay in position and follow the wheel, that's all you can do."
Mat Hayman surprised the cycling world in 2016 by outsprinting Tom Boonen on the Roubaix velodrome to victory and by doing so taking the biggest win of his career. The 2016 edition was his 17th attempt of the 'Hell of the North' and the Australian veteran knows the race better than most, and expects the stage to be very different to its one-day counterpart.
"I love Paris-Roubaix but I'm not sure about tomorrow's stage. It's a real tricky one riding for Adam and having the whole team.
"In Roubaix we're all Classics riders, probably the easiest way to describe Roubaix is everybody looks ahead, nobody is turning around looking over their shoulders and I think tomorrow there is going to be a lot of guys turning over their shoulders looking at what's happening and normally we just race straight ahead, not having to worry about who's where and all that extra chaos on top of a race that's already pretty chaotic.
"I think it'll be full gas but if you lose touch it won't be over. You're going to have to keep riding to the finish line. In the Classics you can throw caution to the wind, you can have a go and if you don't make the front group it doesn't really matter, there's another Classic the next week and everybody is kind of on the look-out for an opportunity.
"I don't think tomorrow there will be as much of that but the flipside of that is that you can't sit up with 10 kilometres to go or 15 kilometres to go if you get dropped, these guys have to ride to the finish line and I'm going to say it, every second counts."
Tough and tricky
With 12 more stages still to come after tomorrow's stage, the Tour de France will not be won tomorrow but it could easily come to an end and while Yates knows what to expect from the parcours, how the race will unfold is another question.
"It's hard to say [how important the stage will be for the whole Tour] because we don't know how it's going to be raced. If there's a lot of crashes and a lot of carnage then it's going to be really critical. If it's safe and all the GC teams are just trying to hold position and look after their riders then it could be quite safe and controlled but we'll see. Like I said before, the stage is a lot tougher than most people were expecting, it's going to be a tough one."
As the GC contenders will be quietly nervous in their team hotels this evening and on tomorrow's start line in Arras Citadelle, the teams without a true GC focus are likely to be the main protagonists of tomorrow's race.
Daniel Oss, who shepherded Greg Van Avermaet to his 2017 victory with BMC Racing and Peter Sagan a year later with Bora-Hansgrohe, Tweeted on the eve of the stage his excitement for the stage and it will be no surprise to see Sagan at the front of the affairs.
Alongside Sagan, Hayman highlights Quick-Step Floors as well as Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) as potential candidates for the stage.
"It's going to be a tricky day for Richie [Porte]," Hayman said. "I see Quick-Step Floors licking their lips at having a go and rubbing their hands.
"I believe [Julian] Alaphilippe even lost some time today so they don't have anybody they've got to look after. They're the team to watch, they can really race on a one-day Classic, they can let any of their riders have a go.
"I think Gilbert will be dangerous tomorrow and then you've got a spattering of other guys around him, Peter Sagan obviously or maybe someone like Edvald Boasson Hagen. You have to look for the teams with Classics riders without a guy going for GC on the team."
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