Ineos Grenadiers can’t wait for cobbles

With chaos comes opportunity, and the cobbles will be chaos. Who will take the opportunity?

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There is no fear in the voice of Geraint Thomas. The Welshman, as fit and lean as we’ve seen him since his Tour de France victory in 2018, may as well throw a wink when asked about the looming cobblestones. “I’ve done my share of cobbles in the past,” he tells CyclingTips. “Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.”

He is likely the only GC contender that feels that way. 

The Tour’s cobbles are not a Roubaix remake, not in scope or length or difficulty, but they are daunting nonetheless. Eleven sectors will greet the peloton on Wednesday. That’s eleven big fights for position, then eleven chances to flat or crash or simply lose the wheel. History tells us that these stages can define a Tour, as one did in 2014, or prove largely inconsequential, as in 2018. The only guarantee is chaos, and the Ineos Grenadiers seem intent on taking advantage of it. 

These stages remain the only true weakness of fortress Pogačar. The last-minute loss of Matteo Trentin with COVID leaves him without a true Roubaix guide, the sort of rider who can make big problems into small ones or prevent them from becoming problems at all. 

Compare that to the Ineos Grenadiers. A glance at the roster indicates they have the firepower to do damage. The reigning Roubaix champion, Dylan van Baarle, is the headline. Then Luke Rowe. Filippo Ganna is a decent motor. Tom Pidcock certainly has the skills, though he’s been quiet thus far. And of course, Thomas, who has ridden Roubaix six times and finished as high as seventh place. 

Will the team go on the offense? Racing director Rod Ellingworth begins to skirt the question, but the confidence is clear. “Possibly yeah,” he says. “But I think some of them won’t be dreading the stage, if you like.

“I think most of these guys have ridden the cobbles or done pretty well on the cobbles at some stage,” he adds.

The difficulty for Ineos may be keeping track of so many potential GC leaders. The team has three this year, at least on paper. Thomas, Adam Yates, and Dani Martinez have all shown indications that they can ride near the top of the GC. Yates, along with Jumbo’s Jonas Vingegaard, were the last men standing as Van Aert ripped the field to bits on Tuesday. He clearly has some form. 

Matt Hayman, Paris-Roubaix winner in 2016, played guide for Yates last time he had to tackle a cobble stage. “He handles himself very well,” he says. 

In the end, the stage may simply not be hard enough. “Three sections – five, four, and three – are hard,” Hayman said. “I’m not sure if there will be massive gaps, as long as guys stay in the bunch I don’t think there will be massive differences.”

It’s difficult to imagine any of Ineos’ trident dropping Pogačar in the mountains, or gaining significant time in a TT. That leaves only the stages in between, small moments of chaos to turn into opportunity. 

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