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Cobblestones at the Tour give rise to the unique site of featherweight climbers hanging doggedly onto the wheels of classics specialists as they do their best to survive on a surface they would never willingly ride. The careful planning and execution of months of suffering and sacrifice can be undone in a heartbeat on cobblestones. The most recent Tour cobblestone crossings, 2004 and 2010, played havoc on the GC and those two stages featured fewer cobblestone sectors than the 2014 edition.
Ben Atkins/peloton/Yuzuru Sunada
After crossing the English Channel to France, the next chapter of the Tour pays tribute to the centenary of the beginning of World War I, as well as exposing the peloton the the “Hell of the North” that cycling in the north east of France is so famous for. Stage five starts in Ypres, Belgium (to give the correct Flemish spelling) and will certainly bring a lump to the throat as it passes through some of the deadliest killing fields of 1914-18, but it will surely be the 15.4km of Paris-Roubaix cobbles that the riders will be thinking of most.
The nine cobbled sectors will be run in reverse to the Paris-Roubaix course, so even specialists may find them a little unfamiliar.
The words ‘Carrefour de l’Arbe’ pricked up a number of ears when the route was announced last year, but it won’t be the five star sector named after the famous cafe on the corner, but the less severe one to Gruson that follows immediately after it in April. Mons-en-Pevele also bears the name of a five star sector, but the Tour will only traverse its more benign final kilometer, making it less of a challenge than many of the others.
The sector that could prove the most decisive is the final one, between Helesmes and Wallers, which passes through the iconic “Pont Gibus” – the bridge that no longer has a top through a disused railway embankment – as it comes with just 6.5km to go. Anyone who attacks on these three-star rated cobbles could stay away to the finish on the entrance to the fearsome Trouee d’Arenberg.
The Tour’s last foray on the Pave du Nord saw the peloton blown to bits by cobble specialist Fabian Cancellara – after his teammate Franck Schleck crashed and broke his collarbone at Sars-et-Rosiers – only for Thor Hushovd to take the stage on the same Arenberg finish line.
Stage seven to Nancy, will pay tribute to France’s World War I dead, as it passes through the battlefields of Verdun and the Douaumont memorial. The 4th category Cote de Boufflers with just 5km to go could be enough to unseat some of the sprinters that might otherwise fancy the flat finish.
Look for Chapter 3 – Vosges and the Alps tomorrow
To read Chapter 1 of our 2014 Tour Preview click here.
For much more on the 2014 Tour pick up a free digital copy of the July Cannodale Gazette.