It's a "nearly impossible" task, according to team manager Patrick Lefevere, but that's the goal. Lefevere predicts panic in the peloton among the GC riders, followed by crashes – and then his riders will attack.
"I hope we'll be able to kick a few riders out of contention for the GC," Lefevere said.
There's no other man in cycling who holds a better record on the pavé in the north of France than Patrick Lefevere. He's managed wins at Paris-Roubaix with Franco Ballerini, Johan Museeuw, Andrea Tafi, Servais Knaven, Tom Boonen and Niki Terpstra.
At the Tour, he won the cobbled stage in 2015 with Tony Martin. No wonder Lefevere's eyes light up when the Quick-Step manager is asked about the Roubaix stage on Sunday: "Pavé? I like it."
Lefevere was, however, quick to point out that a cobbled stage at the Tour is totally different to Paris-Roubaix.
"Paris-Roubaix is a one-day race that you build up to for about a week," he explained. "It's about 260 kilometres long. Here, at the Tour, the riders will have been on the bike for nearly 10 days already. It's completely different. The weather conditions are important, too, with or without wind."
Belgian champion Yves Lampaert did a recon of the route the day after the Hammer Series Limburg in early June, together with Philippe Gilbert, Tim Declercq and Iljo Keisse, although the latter didn't ever make the Tour squad after having been diagnosed with pleurisy ahead of the race.
"It's a light edition of Paris-Roubaix. They're not the worst cobbles. It'll be a massive sprint to the first pavé sector and then the selection will be made by crashes. You'll see team trains everywhere," Lampaert told Cyclingnews. Fernando Gaviria, Max Richeze, Jungels and Julian Alaphilippe did their recon on the day they departed for the Tour de France.
Quick-Step won't be using the same bikes they use at Paris-Roubaix, either.
"Specialized assist us for Paris-Roubaix. The bike we use then is the one that sells the most. I think, for this race, with only 22 kilometres of pavé, it's not necessary to use it. Not because of logistical reasons, but simply because the bike is less rigid, too flexible. You lose too much on the asphalted roads," Lefevere said.
Lefevere explained that there would be guidelines but no detailed plan for his team, as there were too many possible scenarios.
"You can have a great plan, but if there's a big crash, then that plan can often be binned. You clearly need a plan B too," he explained. "On paper, we've got a lot of guys who can go well on the pavé. We need to carry the weight of the race, make the selection and see who survives. Who thought that when Lars Boom won [on the cobbled stage at the 2014 Tour] that Vincenzo Nibali would ride that well in those weather conditions?"
The Quick-Step Floors team have Bob Jungels who is hoping to finish well up on the general classification in Paris. Back in 2012, the Luxembourgian rider won the under-23 Paris-Roubaix.
"When I won, it was pretty warm, too," Jungels told Cyclingnews. "But it's going to be completely different. Compared to a normal Paris-Roubaix, the big difference with a 'Roubaix stage' in a Grand Tour is the presence of the GC riders. They're still the same cobbles, though, and it's still going to be a hard stage, especially with the super-nervous Tour de France peloton."
Jungels is capable of a good ride on the pavé, but luck might just ruin it all, Lefevere said.
"Bob Jungels won the U23 Paris-Roubaix, but these are the pros. Luck will play an important role. If you puncture, then you can be as good on the cobbles as you want."
Some teams with a GC rider and a pavé specialist will opt to let the pavé specialist take care of the GC rider, keeping the main focus on the general classification and not the stage victory.
Not at Quick-Step Floors. "It's near impossible, but we're targeting both. We want to win the stage and help Bob. We didn't come here to win the Tour – we came to do a good GC. If it doesn’t happen this year, no problem," Lefevere said, not ruling out an unexpected Tour victory for Bob Jungels.
The Luxembourgian champion himself aims to ride amongst his teammates for most of the stage. "We've shown in the last few stages that we stick together," Jungels told Cyclingnews. "That's going to be the key for Sunday's stage, too."
Lefevere pointed out that, on paper, Quick-Step is the perfect team to perform on the cobbles on stage 9, but added that there were other riders outside 'The Wolfpack' who would be able to perform just as well on the pavé on Sunday.
"If you're there and you've got boys who can get the stage win, then you go for it. Niki Terpstra? Of course, he can go 'full gas', but we've got to consider Peter Sagan [Bora-Hansgrohe], too. Greg Van Avermaet won Roubaix in 2017 as well, but I don't know what the team orders are at BMC. Sep Vanmarcke [EF-Drapac] has to stay with Rigoberto Uran, and he's not Sagan anyway. There's a bit of a difference between them. Vanmarcke won one race," Lefevere said, referring to the Belgian's win at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 2012, before exaggerating about the world champion’s achievements. "Sagan has won hundreds."
Regarding the more specific character of a Roubaix stage in the Tour de France, Lefevere said that the approach to the first cobbles after less than 50 kilometres of racing would be extremely hectic.
"There'll be panic in the peloton," he said. "It'll be a massive battle when approaching the cobbles. There will be classification riders everywhere. The GC riders will be very nervous, and we'll see crashes. And then we'll attack.
"If all goes well, we'll certainly go full gas," Lefevere continued. "I hope we'll be able to kick a few riders out of contention for the GC. If luck is on our side, and we get the chance to 'liquidate' a few riders, then we'll do that with pleasure."
Clearly, Quick-Step aren't going to sit up if there's a crash in the peloton.
"If you get the chance to distance light riders like Nairo Quintana [Movistar], Rafal Majka [Bora] or any of those boys who are several minutes down, then we won't let that chance slip away. You do remember that two years ago we made Quintana lose the Tour at Neeltje Jans?" Lefevere said, referring to stage 2 of the 2015 Tour de France when his team put the hammer down in the crosswinds.
"Everybody in our team wanted to stop pulling in the echelons. But I said, 'Keep going,' and Quintana was distanced and lost 1:28 that day. And he lost the Tour by 1:12. I’ve got a bad reputation," Lefevere said, with a big smile on his face.
When asked if he ever received flowers for that move, Lefevere sarcastically replied: "Yes, chrysanthemums."
In Lefevere's home country of Belgium, chrysanthemums are usually given at funerals.
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