Anticipation has long been simmering ahead of this tantalising crossover between Le Tour de France and Paris – Roubaix. Populated with a total of 15 official sectors, Stage 9’s path from Arras to Roubaix is a potentially treacherous obstacle for the riders ahead of the first rest day of this year’s edition of the race. Plenty of talented and specialist riders line up for this demanding day, though with the shadow of general classification ambitions cast strongly, it will be a strategic headache to decide if the priority is protecting team leaders or going for glory. Unlike the usual monumental distance of Paris – Roubaix, the day will be far more explosive as a result of totalling only 156.5km, meaning even greater fireworks may be ignited.
John Degenkolb ended up finishing third yesterday as a result of André Greipel and Fernando Gaviria being penalised for dangerous sprinting, though this does not flatter him and his current form. There is little doubt that this is a key ambition for himself and his team, knowing that his previous expertise in winning Paris-Roubaix is likely to be priceless during the defining moments of Stage 9. Likely to be an aggressive day, the shorter distance compared to the Hell of the North could be detrimental, though a week of racing is already in the legs of the peloton, which might negate this factor convincingly so. Powerful enough to follow the danger men and unquestionably fast enough to win at the end of the day, Degenkolb could find himself victorious upon familiar territory once again.
Peter Sagan is the favourite for many ahead of the day’s stage, the indomitable three time world champion able to turn his hand to any riding specialism and prove a contender immediately. Finally winning Paris – Roubaix this year after continuous expectation and pressure, Sagan knows that he is a champion on these cobbles, only adding fuel to the inferno of which is his ego. A victory here would also help to cement a tighter grip upon the green jersey, as few rivals in that contest are likely to match him here as well.
Philippe Gilbert appears to be in fantastic shape during the opening week of Le Tour de France, no doubt now looking to put this to great use by winning Stage 9. Capable of winning from a select sprint or epic solo breakaway (as we witnessed in 2017’s Ronde van Vlaanderen) he is a hard man to anticipate. Given Quick Step’s lesser ambitions with the general classification, he is likely to be part of a potent force alongside Niki Terpstra, Bob Jungels and Yves Lampaert who have the freedom to attack the day. Gilbert rode Paris – Roubaix for the first time in a long time this year with an eye catching performance, one he will be eager to push further.
Sep Vanmarcke must feel jinxed, a specialist in one day races who is continually plagued by bad luck and misfortune. Hoping that the context of a grand tour might alter this for him, the Belgian rider will fancy his chances of going for the win, as with no serious general classification riders to protect, he can give everything to finally take a victory of sorts upon the cobblestones.
Greg Van Avermaet is seeking to extend his time in the yellow jersey until the opening barrage of mountains. Not only is he capable of achieving this ambition, he has a very strong chance of winning the stage too, especially having won the genuine Paris – Roubaix only last year. BMC shall be in a quandary however, as any freedom for Avermaet to ride his own race could result in leaving team leader Richie Porte short of support when it matters most. An interesting dynamic to observe on the day, but the Belgian should be confident of having a shot at glory regardless.
Vincenzo Nibali could cause a stir amongst the peloton on Stage 9, as the grand tour specialist has growing ambitions to take a clean sweep of the five monuments before retiring, ensuring that we will not see the Italian shy away from the action. A dramatic Milan – San Remo earlier this season exemplified his strategic prowess compared to many, yet the feeling is that he is bound to be underestimated yet again by his rivals. His performance in 2014, when Le Tour de France visited the cobblestones in the rain, resulted in a third place finish ahead many of today’s classic specialists. As ever, the Shark of Mesina remains one to keep an eye upon.
Niki Terpstra possesses fantastic pedigree when it comes to racing around these parts of France and Belgium where cobblestones and hellingen are commonplace. An unrivalled performance during De Ronde this season was spectacular, while his previous victory at Paris – Roubaix certainly means he is comfortably placed upon Stage 9’s list of favourites. Likely to wait for a lull in the action or until his rivals go into the red, Terpstra’s best chance will come from his trademark solo attack. Additionally, fighting alongside his teammates from Quick Step can only help to soften the peloton up before he gives it everything.
Taylor Phinney was long touted as a future Paris – Roubaix champion, but racing schedules and a significant injury has meant that his talent for this type of terrain has fallen to the back of some people’s minds. A back to back winner on these cobbles at Paris – Roubaix Espoirs and an 8th place finish at this year’s elite edition sinks any doubt about his capabilities on Stage 9. With enough talent in the team to help protect leader Rigoberto Uran, the American powerhouse should be given the freedom to chase this victory, one which he would richly deserve if successful.
1st Philippe Gilbert 2nd Peter Sagan 3rd Greg Van Avermaet