It is time for the awaited stage with cobblestones. A short stage, just 157 but with 11 pavés. It is mostly a flat stage which is no surprise since we are near the Paris – Roubaix route. A beautiful landscape and seated power will be the combination tomorrow with a total of 19.4 km of cobblestones in the second half of the stage
As you can see below, 11 Pavés. Two stars are easy, three stars are hard and four stars are very hard. I think de Erre à Wandignies will be the key point.
The last five sectors.
The two four-star pavées are close to the finish – approximately 32 km out. From the start of de Erre à Wandignies and until the end of sector 3, de Tilloy-Lez-Machiennes à Sars-et-Rosières, with 18 km left there are 5.6 km of cobbles in 14 km. In this section, we have both of the four stars. From what I can see on Google Maps, sector 3 is going to be the most difficult one.
There is a chance of a bunch sprint or a reduced bunch sprint. The last corner is 900 meters out, it is a fairly simple sprint.
The weather can impact this stage a lot. If we see rain, it will be carnage. Sunny, and most GC riders will wake up with a smile. The wind will be 10-15 km/h from the NW. That means a crosswind on the section I described as race-defining but a tailwind home from the end of sector 3. Temperatures are around 24 degrees C and no rain tonight or tomorrow. Dry cobbles.
How will the stage unfold?
This is a difficult stage to predict. We have a lot of specialists for this stage, some of whom need to work for the GC leader and some have a free card. We know INEOS, Jumbo-Visma and UAE will do everything to protect their GC riders. But what about WvA? I have the feeling he will make the decision on the road, and you can not really blame him if he wants to ride in yellow a day more. What about Pogacar? He was the best we saw in Ronde van Vlaanderen. I expect him to make a move too. One must not underestimate G either. He and Dylan van Baarle will fly tomorrow as well.
I think we will see JV riding defensively, as Pogacar and Thomas are superior to Vingegaard and Roglic tomorrow. That means sacrificing the yellow jersey for the bigger picture.
I think we will see a lot of riders wanting to join the morning break – it could be a free ride into the finale. I expect teams such as Alpecin-Fenix (MvdP) and Trek-Segafredo (Stuyven + Mads P) to light it up. The best chance of winning is having WvA work for his GC men. I am curious to see what the Wolfpack will do. With Lampaert, Senechal and Asgreen – they must have something up their sleeve. Jakobsen won KBK, but the cobblestones there are not very close to the finale. I have a feeling Jakobsen will not have any problems with the cobblestones either.
Then some riders in the dark. Mohoric, Küng, Naesen and Politt could all do well, but they may have team orders. Mohoric has said he would love to be on the attack, but Caruso and Haig can not afford to lose more time. Küng was at the front, trying to help chase down WvA today – that must be for Gaudu. Naesen is likely to help O’Connor and Politt to help Vlasov.
The xPless idea.
I think one should bear in mind, a lot of the riders/teams in “unsure” are likely not going to pull for the stage win, but simply wish to protect their GC rider.
Wout van Aert – 2, 2, 2, 1. What an insane display of skill. If it had not been for potential GC duties tomorrow, he would be up there again tomorrow. But it is looming in the back of my head. What is more important, keeping the jersey until La Planche des Belles Filles or being 100% sure for the longer game? The second option and that is a fact. If it comes down to a bunch sprint, he will get another podium.
Mathieu van der Poel – the yellow jersey seems a bit far away now for MvdP. Nonetheless, expect him to go all-out. 157 km is not a long stage, he will be able to go all-out for a long period of time tomorrow. In a reduced bunch sprint, he knows how to play cat and mouse – and only a few can beat him on the line if they play his game.
Mads Pedersen – the Dane is going to love a mini-Roubaix. With Stuyven by his side, they should be able to have a decent shot at taking the stage win. One to follow attacks and one to anticipate the next move. Both of them are quick, and Mads P stands a fair chance in a bunch sprint too after a tough day.
Peter Sagan – he is very consistent and I expect him to finish in the top-10 again tomorrow. Turgis is not looking very well, which means he is likely on his own and the past has proved that is not a problem.
Alexander Kristoff – the same as for Sagan. Very consistent, very good on cobbles and will likely finish in the top-10 again tomorrow.
Mohoric – I think he has a free card tomorrow. I hope so. He is likely going a long way from home, something that can get him very far in tomorrow’s stage. I had a lot of bad response when I wrote he was top-10 at least in the opening weekend back in February, but a 4th in E3 and 5th in Paris-Roubaix seemed to have changed people’s opinion. He is carrying some form and lost a lot of time today.
Quick-Step – Jakobsen will sit back and hope for a bunch sprint. As for Asgreen, I do not think he is fit enough to win after his crash in Tour de Suisse. Lampaert seems to be doing well after his crash on stage 2 and Senechal has done a fine job as the third man for Jakobsen. I think they will follow moves and try to play the numerical advantage.
Who will win?
I think Wout van Aert will stay with the team, the question is if they do have enough firepower to make sure it becomes a bunch sprint. How much will they invest in keeping the jersey a single day more? I think a new chapter is starting for them. That means a small group will break free between sector 5 -> sector 3. From that group, Quick-Step should have the numbers. I will take a win for Sénéchal.