Welcome skinny GC guys with designs on a 2018 Tour de France podium.
Come on over tiny climbers who prefer a 20% mountain gradient to a flat road strewn with bone shattering stones. Hey, Belgian classics first timers and newbies who want a little taste of those killer cobbles, glad to have ya. Grab a beer and some greasy frites and let’s hit the road. (Not literally, we hope, right?)
Yes, a hearty, perhaps muddy, maybe rain-soaked or dusty and windy welcome to Frenchman Romain Bardet of AG2R, all 140 pounds of him. We love your panache, your joie de vivre, your amour des stones.
Hello to Team Movistar’s Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde who are lining up for Dwars door Vlaanderen this Wednesday. Chapeau my Colombian and Spanish friends — you could have stayed away and avoided this craziness and self-abuse, nasty crashes and possible, Tour derailing injury.
A special pat on the back to recent Milan-San Remo winner, Vincenzo Nibali who will tackle the Tour of Flanders this weekend, his first participation in the event. Yeah, it’s bumpy but not bumpy in the Paris-Roubaix kinda way. The stones are smoother and more rounded versus the jagged and irregular minefield in France.
Team Sky’s Chris Froome isn’t talking any chances with the cobblestones — he’s too busy dodging all the stones thrown at him from everyone in cycling that’s annoyed he’s still racing after his adverse analytical finding for the asthma medication salbutamol. He’s got his own rocky ride to the Giro d’Italia before he even gets to that cobblestone stage of the Tour de France. He crashed out of the Tour in 2014, right before his day on the stones.
Counting the bold Mikel Landa, who threw himself in his cobblestone primer course in E3 Harelbeke, that’s four major Tour de France rivals all doing their prep work in advance of the Tour’s stage nine horror show. That would be the 21.7 kilometers of cobblestones from Arras to Roubaix.
The aging, 37 year old Valverde knows what he’s up against. “I weigh just 61 kilograms, and so you skip from cobble to cobble stone, which makes it even more difficult,” he said. “Don’t ask me how I could ride from here to the Kwaremont, racing in Flanders is one big adventure for me.”
Nibali is going to Flanders with a repeat Tour performance in mind. On the cobblestone stage in the 2014 Tour de France, he built his overall victory with his superb 3rd place finish behind Lars Boom. “I don’t know the route, so I don’t know the secrets of the cobbles and climbs, but I’m up for finding out.” That’s a little sand-bagging from one of the best bike handlers in the sport — a guy who’s already proven he can handle what people are calling a mini-version of Paris-Roubaix, a half Hell of the North, so to speak.
In a sport that has become hyper-specialized, it’s admirable that these lightweight GC heavyweights are brave enough to take the risks and smart enough for a cram course in cobblestones before they attack the Tour de France.
As Tour prep work goes, that’s stone cold smart.