The British super team have Paris-Roubaix winner Dylan van Baarle, Under-23 Paris-Roubaix winner Filippo Ganna and experienced Classics road captain Luke Rowe in their eight-rider squad at the Tour. They will be expected to protect, guide and help team leaders Adam Yates, Dani Martínez and Geraint Thomas survive on the eleven sectors and 19.4km of cobbles that fill the final 77km of the stage.
“We need to make sure they don’t lose any time. Then if we see an opportunity to take time, we’ll try to take it,” Van Baarle told Cyclingnews, as every team’s thoughts turned to Wednesday’s stage after the transfer from Denmark to northern France.
“If there’s an opportunity to gain time, it’s always welcome, that’s stage racing. But it’s almost impossible to predict how the stage will go. You can be on the floor even before the first cobbled sector.”
Jumbo-Visma, Quickstep-AlphaVinyl, UAE Team Emirates, Bora-Hansgrohe and Mathieu van der Poel’s Alepcin-Fenix squad perhaps see the cobbled stage in the same way, but every team is concerned about the impact and the carnage the cobbles will have on this year’s battle of overall victory. A crash could take a rider out of the race, while a significant time loss could end their GC ambitions after just five stages.
Some teams are against the inclusion of Paris-Roubaix cobbles in the Tour de France for those reasons. Not Ineos Grenadiers.
“It’s France, there are cobbled roads and so why not?” Van Baarle argued.
“We’re more than happy to have the cobbled stage in the Tour,” team manager Rod Ellingworth said with a smile.
“Paris-Roubaix is one of the most iconic days of our sport and it’s in France, so why not race over the same roads?
“I’m sure some of the lads wouldn’t like me saying that, because it adds extra tension and potential problems, but pro cycling is a beautiful sport and it does need things like the cobbles.”
Ellingworth added that the stage should be viewed as a chance to attack. “You should always look at it as an opportunity,” he said, pointing to the experience in his squad on such terrain.
“Dylan won Paris-Roubaix, Luke Rowe is fantastic in these situations and Geraint brings a whole wealth of knowledge to people like Filippo Ganna and Tom Pidcock, who are in their first Tour. They’re already talking in the bus and how they want to ride together and are learning from each stage.
Adam Yates, Dani Martínez and Spain’s Jonathan Castroviejo are perhaps a little more concerned about the stage on the cobbles but have dutifully carried a reconnaissance of the stage. They know they have to trust Van Baarle, Ganna, Rowe and the cyclo-cross world champion Pidcock.
The 157km stage starts in central Lille and then heads south into Paris-Roubaix country. The eleven sectors are all in the second half of the stage, with the last sector coming just seven kilometres from the finish at the entrance to the legendary Forest of Arenberg. Fortunately, the riders have been spared the 2.3km straight sector that often ignites Paris-Roubaix each April.
“The first few sectors are not super hard and rough but then we hit three sectors used in Paris-Roubaix and they’re pretty long and hard,” Van Baarle warned.
Van Baarle won Paris-Roubaix with an 18km solo attack across the pavé. He is set to move to Jumbo-Visma for 2023, but Ineos Grenadiers have put their trust in him, knowing he will play a loyal team role on the cobbled stage and important domestique role for the rest of the Tour.
A chance for Van Baarle, Ganna or Pidcock to go for the stage victory will only open up once Yates, Martínez and Thomas are safe in the front group.
“I haven’t done many of the cobbled stages in the Tour, but I know it’s different to racing Paris-Roubaix, because you always have to think about your GC guys. You’re always looking around for them,” Van Baarle said.
“I know I have to protect the GC guys; Adam, Dani and Geraint. They know they can follow me, Luke and Pippo on cobbles. We have to stick together.
“What happens on Wednesday depends on the wind on the day. We have to see how it works out on the road. And as I said, if we see an opportunity to attack and take time, we’ll try to take it.”
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has been Head of News at Cyclingnews since 2022, before which he held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and CyclingWeekly, among other publications.