On the day of fear, John Degenkolb’s heart rises. When the Tour de France tackles the cobblestone stage to the infamous Arenberg forest on Wednesday, the veteran is in his comfort zone.
“Of course I picked this stage,” says the 33-year-old. After all, a triumph at Paris-Roubaix 2015 is on his CV. In addition, the native of Thuringia won in 2018, when the tour led through the “Hell of the North” for the last time.
What Degenkolb is looking forward to like a small child sometimes causes panic among the contenders for overall victory. “In the end there will be many who will be happy when it’s over,” says Degenkolb about the 153.7-kilometer fifth stage. “They’ll be happy if they’ve lost just a minute or two or don’t have to go home all the way.”
Memories of Paris-Roubaix
The route planners included eleven sections on the so-called pavés in the section. Four of them are regularly driven at the classic Paris-Roubaix. While there were many short sectors in 2018, this year they are more select and longer. “The cumulative distance is less important than the length of each sector,” said route manager Thierry Gouvenou.
If things go according to plan, the top stars need not worry. Primoz Roglic and Jonas Vingegaard have Belgian classic car star Wout van Aert as their navigator. Alexander Vlassov, captain of the German team Bora-hansgrohe, is being watched out for by former Roubaix runner-up Nils Politt and Austria’s powerhouse Marco Haller. Defending champion Tadej Pogacar may have lost his most important helper to a corona infection in Matteo Trentin, but he already showed his qualities on cobblestones in the spring.
Of course there are many voices against such a stage of the tour. It’s kind of a tradition. Simon Geschke criticized that the tour organizers only care about the spectacle – and the Berliner may not be wrong. Bora-hansgrohe team boss Ralph Denk does not believe in the stage either. “I don’t think it’s good. You can’t win the tour, but you can lose. You train for the tour for nine months and then you lose everything because of a puncture,” said the Bavarian. “I think the classic Paris-Roubaix is mega. Everything should be in its time.”
Indeed, there is a stark difference between a cobblestone classic and a Tour stage. While only specialists are ahead in the classic, the captains also want to be the first on the paved passages on the tour – and they are more likely to be assigned to the 60-kilo mountain flea category than to a powerful kicker who weighs 15 to 20 kilograms more on the ribs the pavement slides. This inevitably leads to chaos.
Anyway, John Degenkolb will have fun. He doesn’t know yet whether it’s enough for a good result. He cannot yet assess the effects of his corona infection shortly before the tour. Only one thing should be certain. Degenkolb will visit the toilet again before the start. Almost as a security measure. Degenkolb says: “This is a day on which the tension will be enormously high. It will be full throttle from start to finish. You might not even have time to pee.”