Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) believes the cobbled sectors on stage 9 of the 2018 Tour de France will be even more treacherous than those traversed in recent editions of the race. The Sicilian sampled the pavé on Monday and said afterwards that he plans to return for a second reconnaissance before July.
"Compared to 2014 and 2015, I found some sectors to be more dangerous. And they will be even more so if it rains,” Nibali told La Gazzetta dello Sport
“On some sectors there was a lot of water on the sides and a lot of mud. Compared to the recent past, we’ll have more kilometres on the pavé, so it will be without doubt a very important stage. As soon as my schedule allows, I want to come for another recon.”
Nibali laid the foundations of his 2014 Tour victory on the rain-soaked cobbled stage to Arenberg, where he defended his maillot jaune by placing third behind winner Lars Boom and putting almost two minutes into his general classification rivals.
A year later, the Tour returned to the cobbles on the road to Cambrai, though the dry conditions helped to ensure that the principal overall contenders reached the finish together in a stage won by Tony Martin.
Stage 9 of the 2018 Tour will be the most difficult of the race’s recent forays onto the cobbles, however, with some 15 sectors of pavé featuring on the 154 kilometre stage from Arras to Roubaix. The 21.7km of cobbles on the route feature sectors from Paris-Roubaix, including those at Mons-en-Pévèle and Ennevelin.
On Monday, Nibali reconnoitred the first three sectors by car, before riding the remainder of the stage in the company of his Bahrain-Merida teammate Franco Pellizotti, and followed by directeurs sportifs Rik Verbrugghe and Tristan Hoffman. “It’s worse than a mountain stage,” Pellizotti told La Gazzetta.
Nibali had already used his Tour of Flanders debut earlier this month to perform part of his material testing for the Tour de France cobbles. The Milan-San Remo winner started the Tour of the Basque Country the following day, though abandoned after four stages. Nibali rode to 32nd at Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, and will line out at Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday in preparation for his major objective of the Spring, Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Enrico Gasparotto, third at Amstel on Sunday and 5th on the Mur de Huy in 2016, will lead Bahrain-Merida’s challenge at Flèche Wallonne, alongside Ion Izagirre.
Bahrain-Merida for Flèche Wallonne: Vincenzo Nibali, Ion Izagirre, Gorka Izagirre, Enrico Gasparotto, Hermann Pernsteiner, Franco Pellizotti, Grega Bole.
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