Before leaving his native Denmark on Sunday, Jonas Vingegaard dropped information on the “Velorapa” podcast. The second in the Tour de France 2021 spoke about the strategy of his Jumbo-Visma team for the 5th stage of 157 kilometers, Wednesday July 6 between Lille and Arenberg (North). To hear it, Primoz Roglic, the Slovenian leader of the team and himself will be able to count on the science of the cobblestones of their luxury teammate, Wout van Aert, to travel protected along the eleven sectors borrowed, for a part , on the Paris-Roubaix route and which will punctuate the day.

The Belgian knows the rules of the game. On the Tour, specialists like him pedal with cumbersome fenders for their personal ambitions, those of the guardian angel of their leader(s), for the general classification. When he knows the names, lengths and number of stars of the thirty sectors of Paris-Roubaix by heart, Roglic and Vingegaard watch the classic from a sofa, if they are not distracted by their role as young fathers.

During the 9th stage of the Tour de France 2018, Romain Bardet had experienced a little hell on these unpaved agricultural paths with three punctures. On arrival in Roubaix, the Frenchman spoke of a “little miracle” about the seven seconds conceded to the other favorites. He had thanked his teammate at AGR2R La Mondiale, Oliver Naesen, “for having sacrificed his chances of victory” by staying by his side.

Four years later, cobblestones are back. At AG2R Citroën, the Belgian will do accompanied driving this time with Australian Ben O’Connor, 4th in the Tour in 2021. “There is a big difference between a cobblestone stage and a classic where you pursue your objective personal. There, nine out of ten runners who are specialists will apprehend the race with a rear view mirror to find out where their leader is, ”announces the 13th in Paris-Roubaix in 2019.

This will be the case for Dylan van Baarle. Last winner of the “Hell of the North”, the Dutchman of the Ineos Grenadiers team must convey over the 19.4 kilometers of cobblestones on the program, the Briton Adam Yates and the Colombian Daniel Felipe Martinez. In one piece and without conceding too much time, if possible.

“You just have to stay calm and serene”

Third leader of the British team, Geraint Thomas, he will not need anyone. Before becoming a winner of the Tour in 2018, the Welshman dragged his sideburns on the classics of the North for a long time. In 2010, he had played the team during a 3rd stage which also arrived in Arenberg. The organization had already sought to spice up its first week, to the chagrin of some favorites.

“I’m not happy that there are cobblestones. For me, there is no need for it, ”Luxembourgish Andy Schleck was angry. “It’s going to be carnage,” predicted a certain Lance Armstrong, the American then still a seven-time Tour winner and on a farewell tour. For some, it had been. At the finish, Andy Schleck may have cried the abandonment after a fall of Fränk, his beloved older brother, but he finished 5th and distanced other contenders in the general classification, such as the Italian Ivan Basso and the Basque Iban Mayo. The latter had spent six minutes.

In his defense, he was evolving at Euskatel-Euskadi, where it was almost necessary to draw straw the attendants to honor the presence of the formation on Paris-Roubaix. At Saxo Bank, Andy Schleck only had to follow the Swiss Fabian Cancellarra.

Like his compatriot, Stefan Küng defends himself on this ground. But the Groupama-FDJ rider does not oversell his role with David Gaudu, his rider to protect. “David did the reconnaissance, he follows well on the cobbles, he knows how to position himself, assures the European time trial champion. It’s going to be so stressful, you just have to stay calm and collected. »

“One of the decisive meetings”

In the 1980s, Maxime Bouet (Arkéa-Samsic) would have been a worried teammate. At the time, the Colombians threatened to take the first plane to Bogota rather than drive on its paths of doom. But times have changed a lot. Despite his featherweight physique, Nairo Quintana knows how to maneuver in the wind and on the cobblestones. “He’s maybe one of the best in the team in that area. He is one of the leaders who scares me the least for Wednesday, ”says Bouet, who guesses others less serene.

Thierry Gouvenou half-hopes so. The technical director of the Tour traced this stage with sectors grouped together during the last hour of the race, to see certain teams seek to put some of their rivals in difficulty. “In 2018, we had put a lot of them but they were spaced out and we found that it did not create a lot of gaps, he detailed to the Voix du Nord. There, we have rectified the situation, and we know that this will be one of the decisive meetings of the first week… There will be more time to lose here than on the mountain stages. »

Echaudé, one of the sporting directors of UAE Team Emirates, Aart Vierhouten, spoke of “madness” in April about the start of the Paillencourt sector, at the bottom of a descent. Since then, the route has been modified to slow down the progress of the peloton.

This beginning of controversy passed over the cherubic head of Tadej Pogacar. The leader of the Emirati team and double winner outgoing of the Tour, published at the same time a photo of him after the recognition of the various sectors. Planted in front of the mythical gap of Arenberg (not on the program Wednesday), the Slovenian had his greedy smile. The one his rivals fear as much as a mini “Paris-Roubaix” in the first week.