GC riders for the 2018 Tour de France have been riding some of Belgian cobbled Classics as preparation for the Roubaix stage of the race, but does it serve much of a purpose?
Racing the cobbles of Belgium to prepare for the 2018 Tour de France’s Paris-Roubaix stage is not necessary, says Team Sky’s sports director Servais Knaven.
Knaven won the 2001 Paris-Roubaix and helped Chris Froome preview the cobbles of stage nine last week. He is directing Sky’s cobbled Classics team through races like Dwars door Vlaanderen, where Froome’s Tour rivals Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) raced on Wednesday.
“Racing [here] has nothing to do with Roubaix, with the cobbles in the Tour. It’s totally different,” Knaven said.
“In my eyes, it’s not necessary. [The cobbles here are] nothing to do with the stage. Only thing is, the way of racing, the nervousness, and everything, that’s what you can get a feel for, but I think you also have that in Paris-Nice or in any race. That’s why our GC riders are not here.”
Movistar’s classification stars for the Tour visited for the Belgian one-day races this week. Mikel Landa raced in E3 Harelbeke on Friday and Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde began the Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday.
The cobbles differ and are less than the 21.7 kilometres of cobbles over the northern France farm roads on the Tour’s stage nine. In Dwars door Vlaanderen, they only rode around five kilometres over three sectors and two cobbled climbs.
“I did the recon, 69 kilometres in the rain, completely alone, it was a bit like the conditions we’ll have in Dwars door Vlaanderen,” said small French climber, Bardet after his Dwars door Vlaanderen preview on Tuesday.
“It was a recon and it was the first time, everything was new. Although I won’t know the race completely by heart, like a French race, at least it’ll help me because I know how cycling is on these roads.
“It’s a new experience and it’s all in eye of the Tour de France.”
After the reconnaissance, Bardet and the AG2R camp appeared to change their mind whether the Belgian cobbles could be useful in light of the French cobbles they will face in July.
“It’s to get a new experience and see what could happen because I really like these kinds of races,” Bardet said ahead of Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday.
“Usually, I prefer to go in the mountains, but I have to try new things in my career and I’m happy to be here.
“Preparation for the Tour? No, it’s not the same cobbles as in Roubaix. It’s the same kind of racing, but not the same cobbles.”
Trek-Segafredo sports director Dirk Demol, winner of the 1988 Paris-Roubaix, laughed when he heard that the riders were coming to prepare for the Tour.
“You can’t learn how to position in the cobblestone Classics. You certainly don’t learn it after one day,” Demol said.
“Compared to the cobblestones of Roubaix [that are in the 2018 Tour], the sectors in Flanders are real boulevards.”