Vincenzo Nibali built his 2014 Tour de France victory on a strong ride on the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix and is quietly hoping for a similar day of grace so that he can gain chunks of time on his overall rivals in this year's race.
Nibali's younger brother Antonio took his first win as professional rider at the Tour of Austria, wearing race number 13 on Friday the 13th. Nibali is number 51 – the legendary number so often worn by Eddy Merckx and other Grand Tour winners.
"I hope I can continue the family winning streak on Sunday, but it won't be easy. Bike racing is never predictable or logical, and cares little about families," Nibali told Cyclingnews.
"Our first goal is to race well, to not lose time and to be at the head of the race. For sure, the stage is going to be a tough day out – it's going to be a difficult day for everyone. We all know how difficult racing on the pavé is. Some of the sectors are very rough, too. It'll be a unique stage where the GC guys will race shoulder to shoulder with the Classics guys. We hope to have the right grinta, the right determination, as we did in 2014."
Nibali was already in yellow in that year's Tour de France on the eve of the cobbled stage after winning stage 2 to Sheffield, in the UK, with a late solo attack, and was then similarly aggressive on the pavé to the Arenberg Forest.
Chris Froome had already retired after a series of crashes and injuries, but Nibali joined forces with his then-Astana teammate Jakob Fuglsang to finish second and third behind stage winner Lars Boom. All his rivals finished two minutes down, with others scattered across the fields and farm tracks of northern France.
This year Nibali is racing to pull back time on most of his overall rivals, with the 15 sectors of cobbles expected to be bone dry rather then covered in rain and mud as they were in 2014. He has avoided losing time in the many crashes, but his Bahrain-Merida team lost a minute to his big-name rivals at BMC Racing, Team Sky, Mitchelton-Scott, Quick-Step Floors and Team Sunweb in the team time trial on stage 3. Nibali is close to some of his rivals, including Chris Froome, but starts Sunday's stage 1:12 down on race leader Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing).
Nibali refused to rule out another 'combine' with Fuglsang this year, and knows he can count on a close friendship with Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) after the world champion refused to chase him down when he attacked to win Milan-San Remo. However, he will be racing against 20 other team leaders and their cobbled Classics support riders.
"Some people are perhaps expecting I'll do something again. If only it was that easy," he said.
"Every major team has selected cobbled specialists just because of this stage, and so I'm sure they'll all fight to protect their GC leaders. We'll do the same; I'll have Heinrich Haussler, Sonny Colbrelli and Kristijan Koren to look after me. They're all good on pavé; they've proven that over the years. We'll not hold back, but who knows what will have happened by the time we get to Roubaix?"
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