Olympic champion Samuel Sánchez and his Euskaltel-Euskadi teammates Juanjo Oroz and Egoi Martínez spent Tuesday training on the cobbled sections of the third stage of the Tour de France between Wanze and Arenberg. They were accompanied by Euskaltel team boss Igor González de Galdeano, who was riding for ONCE the last time the Tour tackled the cobbles in 2004.
"It’s going to be madness," Galdeano told Bilbao’s El Correo. You go from a wide road onto a track that’s a third of the size and full of pot-holes. And the wind is always blowing here as well."
Galdeano never rode Paris-Roubaix during his 12-year pro career, but he still has vivid memories of that Tour stage in 2004, when Euskaltel’s Iban Mayo crashed on the cobbles and lost all hope of challenging for the yellow jersey. "The most important thing is get your positioning right.
"The first three sections are in Belgium, but the four that follow in France are the worst," he added. The last of them at Haveluy is less than 10 kilometres from the stage finish and is rated four out of five in terms of difficulty at Paris-Roubaix.
"What it comes down to is that you have to be lucky. Or at least you have to avoid having any bad luck. If you puncture or crash, it will be a long time before the team cars can get up and attend to you. This stage will be decisive, not in terms of who wins, but because somebody will definitely lose the race here," said Galdeano.
"We will just have to pray. All the sections are difficult, except the first one. In the French sections the stones are three centimetres apart," he added. "Now that the riders have seen them they will know what they are up against."
A fundamental part of the reconnaissance was a focus on equipment choice. The three riders tested a number of different wheel and tyre options, as well as different tyre pressures. Euskaltel mechanic Tomás Amezaga indicated they would probably opt for 24 or 25mm tubulars, inflated to six or seven kilograms, rather than the usual nine kilograms of pressure.