Two Belgian riders can be regarded as dark horses for the win on stage 9 of the Tour de France on Sunday, with a cobblestone stage from Arras to Roubaix. Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) and Julien Vermote (Dimension Data) have free roles in their teams, whereas many other pavé specialists may be forced to stay with their general classification leaders.
Both Stuyven and Vermote hope to seize their best chance at a stage victory in the 2018 Tour de France on Sunday afternoon. Stuyven’s name in Dutch means causing dust. That’s a good omen, since it’ll be extremely dusty in the ‘Hell of the North’. The 26-year-old finished top-10 in all of the major spring Classics, with his fifth place on the velodrome in Paris-Roubaix the highlight. Stuyven seems at ease in the Tour de France, compared to the stress of the spring classics.
"It’s on the limit here. There’s a lot of stress in the finales but I haven’t been worrying too much, really. I’m looking at things somewhat from the outside," Stuyven said, just before rolling to the start line at the anonymous French parking lot that was chosen as the location of the start of stage 8 in Dreux. “I’m looking forward to Sunday’s stage. It’s not a guarantee for success, though. There are a lot of boys who look forward to the stage. A lot will depend on the race situation too. I believe in my chances, especially since I’ve ridden a good Roubaix. I’m one of the boys who has received the freedom from the team to chase the victory. It’s a huge difference."
The difference he refers to is about having the obligation to look for the team’s GC rider or not. Stuyven summed up teams and riders that came to his mind when thinking about riders with a free role and the skills to ride the cobbles.
“I’m thinking about the riders from the Lotto Soudal team, the Quick-Step team and, to me, also [Arnaud] Démare with [Ramon] Sinkeldam; they can go far and don’t have a GC rider. There’s a big chance for Julien Vermote too. It’s hard to predict really because there’s certainly some boys who’re capable of this but don’t ride the classics. Due to race circumstances, they might end up in front. I’m naming a lot of Belgian riders but it’s not a Belgian peloton over here. We’ll have to wait and see. [Edvald] Boasson Hagen is another one.”
Before he went off for another long day on the French roads, Stuyven also mentioned that riders will be more tired than one would think because of the heat.
Vermote was delighted to hear that Jasper Stuyven named him as a rider to keep an eye on in the stage to Roubaix. "It’s good to hear that," Vermote told Cyclingnews. Last year, Vermote was the big star in the Tour while riding for the Quick-Step team. He spent countless hours in front of the peloton to control the breakaway moves, trying to get the race to finish in a bunch sprint for his leader Marcel Kittel.
Aside from being known for his big engine, Vermote also gained some fans with his distinctive hairstyle. This year, Vermote opted to move to the Dimension Data team to chase personal success. That didn’t work out in the spring classics. It started well with a near miss after a solo move in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, but he never managed to crack the top-10 in any other race this season. The team wasn’t helped by multiple injuries. In this Tour de France, the 28-year-old Belgian rider has been working for his sprinter Mark Cavendish, without success.
"I’m feeling good. It’s hard to predict the stage. I’ve been working well so far. Hopefully, we can win with Cav. He’s better than you think. A win is important, even more for a sprinter. The team is good too. We’ve had some bad luck but it’s getting better,” Vermote said while heading for the start line of stage 8 in Dreux.
He knew the Roubaix stage was a good opportunity for him to show off his capabilities but he seemed to try to lower the expectations.
“There are more stages with a chance for me but the Roubaix stage suits me the most. It’ll be nervous all day long. Straight away, you’ll need to be in front. We’ll eat dust for sure.”