LILLE, France (VN) — Tour de France race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) said that any of the overall favorites risks losing one minute or more in Wednesday’s stage over the Paris-Roubaix cobbles.
“Anyone can easily lose one minute, but if you lose more than that it means you are on a bad day or you’ve crashed badly,” said Nibali “I hope that doesn’t happen to anyone. The rain, though, is going to make it difficult for all of us.”
Nibali leads the race overall by two seconds over all the other classification favourites including Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Chris Froome (Sky) and Americans Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing).
They face the roughest stage of this year’s race Wednesday, 155.5 kilometres with 15.4 on Northern France’s pavé farm roads. The last sector leaves only around four kilometres to race.
“I’ve never raced Paris-Roubaix before,” continued Nibali. “I’ve raced the pavé in the Benelux Tour, but that’s different. Luckily, Astana is second in the teams classification and so our car will be up front.”
This spring, Nibali previewed the sectors that usually make up the Paris-Roubaix classic. He rode over most of the nine sectors twice.
Nibali will use the Specialized Roubaix frame that the Astana team usually uses in Paris-Roubaix, and ride on 28mm tires. He will mainly rely on teammates Dmitriy Gruzdev and Andriy Grivko.
The Astana team will send two team helpers to each sector ready to give Nibali new wheels. However, it can only give bikes to him from the team cars.
“Someone, without a doubt, will lose their Tour hopes on the pavé, so clearly it’s an important stage for us,” Team Manager Giuseppe Martinelli said. “We are hoping to do something better than the others, deliver a psychological blow.”
The forecast shows 64°F and rain tomorrow which could split the race sooner rather than later. Nibali could be better suited than some after already showing that he is comfortable on technical conditions when racing the Giro d’Italia’s white gravel roads.
“We’ll see two races, Contador racing against Nibali, Nibali against Contador, Froome watching them both,” Martinelli said. “You know, it’ll be like the end of the world heading into the first pavé sector. Everyone wants to take it at the front.
“In the last two sectors, it’ll be like a climb, everyone will be going at his own pace. The first sector will be the hardest due to positioning, then the last two will be almost as hard.”
Martinelli said that the cobbled specialists like three-time Paris-Roubaix winner Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) could race their own race and the classification favorites another. If Nibali succeeds in defending his lead, or even adding to it, then he could hold on to the yellow jersey until the Tour de France hits the first uphill finish to La Mauselaine on Saturday.