Tour de France: Classics specialists will not be waiting for overall contenders

After three hectic days it’s hard to imagine that the fourth stage of the Tour de France is the most anticipated stage of the first week, with pavé sections featuring in the 223.5 kilometres long stage from Seraing to Cambrai.

Last year’s mini-edition of Paris-Roubaix turned out to be a legendary stage with Lars Boom and Vincenzo Nibali as the shining stars while Christopher Froome drowned in the flood. Boom’s teammate Sep Vanmarcke was also expected to fight for the victory but a mechanical threw him backwards. This time around the 26-year-old Belgian rider is the only team leader in the LottoNL-Jumbo team. He finished twice in the top five in Paris-Roubaix and dreams of a victory on the cobbles.

“I’m allowed to go for my own chances,” the Belgian said. “But the general classification of our front men is even more important, of course. Only Robert [Gesink] is well placed at this moment, so I will get some more space from the team,” Vanmarcke said in a press release from the team.

Director sportif Nico Verhoeven expects a different scenario compared to last year.

“Now Vanmarcke is more announced than last year. Then it felt like we were the only team that were making a goal of that stage, especially in the build-up. I’m not expecting Boom to stay with Nibali if he can win the stage. Kristoff will surely not be hanging around Rodriguez for too long. I expect more teams to have their classics specialist have a go for the victory. I don’t expect someone like Van Avermaet to await van Garderen, or Langeveld to stay with Talansky all stage long. I expect more competition among the classic specialists, and especially Kristoff,” Verhoeven said at the start of the third stage in Antwerp.

“Last year there were many classics specialists who stayed with their team leader. For example, all Garmin-riders were supposed to stay with Talansky. Two days later he crashed so that tactic turned out to be a missed opportunity, especially if you have two specialists. You don’t need to ride with seven guys around two team leaders but that’s what they did. I expect a bigger battle.”

Just like many other teams LottoNL-Jumbo checked out the course and he offered his insights to Cyclingnews. Course-wise the Dutch Sports Director said that the Hell of the North was dusty, with three out of seven pavé sectors being in bad condition.

“The cobbles are extremely dry. It’s going to be a dustfest. The first sections will be the worst, namely sector 6, 5 and 4. They’re the shortest sections but they have the worst cobbles. The last pavé sections are longer and more rolling.

The condition of the cobbles might still change and many of the followers will be checking out the weather forecast during the next few hours.

There’ll be chaos if there’s rain. For now, I heard that it would be dry, possibly with a rain shower and wind from the west, southwest. If it’s southwest then that would mean there’s a headwind in the last 140 kilometres. There’ll be some turns so there’ll be crosswinds too but overall it would be less hard due to the headwind. Don’t forget that the amount of spectators and campers along the course might limit the influence of the wind.”

Stage 4 of the Tour de France kicks off at noon. There’s one isolated 1800 metres-long pavé sector in Belgium after 100 kilometres of racing. The next six sectors feature late in the stage when the Tour de France enters home ground, starting after 177 kilometres of racing. The last 2300 metres long pavé sector ends at 10 kilometres from the finish line on the Aristide Briand square in front of the Cambrai town hall.

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