Spaniard Mikel Landa (Movistar) is racing the cobbles of Northern Europe for the first time to prepare for the Tour de France's Paris-Roubaix stage this July.
The ninth stage, including 15 sectors and 21.7 kilometres of cobbles, could become just as decisive, if not more, as the summit finishes for the mountain men like Landa. To prepare, he is racing the E3 Harelbeke, only his second time to even race in Belgium after the 2013 Flèche Wallonne.
"I've never raced the cobbles before," Landa said at the start of the E3 Harelbeke on Friday. "I have some cobbled roads around home, but not like this.
"I have to learn how to take the fastest way over the cobbles. Learn to fight to keep my position. Also try the pressure in the tyres."
Landa raced to fourth overall, one second away from third place, last year helping Chris Froome win the overall title.
Over the winter, he switched from Team Sky to Movistar. He will be one of the team's leaders with Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde this July 7 to 29.
The latter two will race in Belgium's Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday to try the cobbled roads. Frenchman Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), third in the 2017 Tour, will also race.
"We have an important stage in the Tour de France so I think it's important to learn a little bit how to take the best way on those roads," Landa added.
"A new Tour will start after that stage. It'll be very important. It's going to be a very hard stage. You can lose a lot. It's going to be important to lose nothing."
Landa rode to start line of the WorldTour race in grey and 6°C air with the wind blowing hard off the North Sea. "I'm not worried, I'm here to learn," he said. "I'll try to enjoy the day as much as possible."
Sky's sports director and former Paris-Roubaix winner, Servais Knaven said that Chris Froome should not need to race any of the cobbled races to be ready for the Tour de France.
"It's not going to help you for July racing here," he explained. "It's more important that we do the recon, like we did Wednesday."
Froome previewed the sectors with Geraint Thomas and Jonathan Castroviejo. Landa said that he will join his Movistar team to ride on those sectors after they finish with Paris-Roubaix.
"You have that first contact with the pavé," Movistar sports director, José García Acosta said. "We know that the roads will be important in the Tour de France, but in his career, Mikel has raced very little on them. This is an opportunity to build for the Tour."
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