Cobbles in the Tour: Nine levels of Hell to pass through on the road to Yellow Heaven
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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Cobbles in the Tour: Nine levels of Hell to pass through on the road to Yellow Heaven

by Ben Atkins at 11:37 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
15.4km of the Pavé du Nord to negotiate, but nothing as serious as first it appears

tour de franceThe 2014 Tour de France route was announced today and features plenty of talking points, not least the inclusion of five summit finishes but only one time trial. One thing certain to get everybody interested is the inclusion of some of the fearsome Pavé du Nord in the course of stage five, between Ypres, Belgium, and Arenberg, Porte du Hainaut, as it crosses the territory of Paris-Roubaix. Like the unmade Strade Bianche in the Giro d’Italia, putting cobblestones in the Tour de France is one of the issues that polarises opinions on both sides.

Some say that Grand Tour riders should not be subjected to the prehistoric surfaces of the Spring Classics, while others say that the roads are as legitimate an obstacle for contenders to have to tackle as the mountains and the time trials.

What is a fact though, is that anybody that wants to win the 2014 Tour de France will have to negotiate 15.4km of cobbles, divided into nine secteurs, which is 2.2km more than the last time they featured in the race.

In 2010 the Tour crossed a total of 13.2km, as part of the third stage between Wanze, Belgium, and the same Arenberg finish. That time, however, many of the cobblestones came on the Belgian side of the border, while all will come from the route of Paris-Roubaix this time.

Just as it did back then, when it was won by Norwegian champion Thor Hushovd, the stage will finish on the entrance to the fearsome Trouée d’Arenberg, which causes so much chaos in the Queen of the Classics, but fall short of actually crossing it.

Local knowledge is always useful, but these secteurs will be a little unfamiliar to even the most experienced Classics riders, since they will be ridden in the opposite direction to usual.

The big headlines will be grabbed by the inclusion of the words “Carrefour de l’Arbre” and “Mons-en-Pévèle”, whose secteurs are assigned five stars for severity in the Enfer du Nord, but neither will be anything like as bad.

The Gruson to Carrefour de l’Arbre secteur, at just 1.1km is not the famous five-star secteur, but the relatively benign one that follows immediately afterwards. Similarly, the Mons’ secteur is to be just one kilometre long, which means it will be just a fraction of the Paris-Roubaix secteur that saw George Hincapie fracture his shoulder as his steerer tube snapped in 2006, and will likely be the smoothest part.

The Ennevelin à Pont-Thibaut secteur will be the first of the bad secteurs, but with a three-star rating, will not be too bad by Paris-Roubaix standards. Like Mons, the Bersée and Brillon à Warlaing secteurs will only cover parts of those used in April.

Orchies à Beuvry-la-Forêt is a relatively new secteur to Paris-Roubaix, only introduced in 2007, and and features a dedication to two-time race winner turned manager Marc Madiot.

At 2.4km, Sars-et-Rosières à Tilloy-lez-Marchiennes has a relatively easy surface and its position such a long way from the finish means it has created few headlines in Paris-Roubaix. As the only secteur from the 2010 Tour de France to be repeated this time, however, it carries the notorious reputation as the place that ended Fränk Schleck’s race. The then Luxembourg champion came down hard on the cobblestones, shattering his collarbone and causing a massive split in the peloton behind him.

The few riders to be ahead of the incident included Schleck’s younger brother Andy, and cobble specialists Fabian Cancellara and Thor Hushovd; Cancellara drove the group to the finish, on behalf of team leader Andy, where Hushovd gratefully sprinted to victory.

Wandignies-Hamage à Hornaing will probably the toughest secteur of the stage, partly because of its length, which earns it a four-star rating in April. Like the others it will be run in reverse to its usual direction as it passes under the shadow of two huge water towers.

The decisive point of the stage will likely come on the Hélesmes à Wallers, which will be at less than ten kilometres to go. This three-star secteur provides Paris-Roubaix with one of its most recognisable landmarks, as it passes through a disused railway embankment, under a bridge that no longer has a top.

The Pont Gibus, named after two-time winner Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle generally comes just after the Arenberg Forest, but will likely see more attacking next July than it ever does in April as the peloton gears up for the finish.

What may prove more important than the disused railway crossing, however, could be the fact that this secteur actually crosses a newer one shortly afterwards. If the Tour de France’s timetable tangles with that of the SNCF, there may be some controversial time losses and gains that have nothing to do with the cobblestones.

Cobbled secteurs to feature in Tour de France stage five (with Paris-Roubaix rating where applicable)
Gruson au Carrefour de l’Arbre 1.1km (**)
Ennevelin à Pont-Thibaut 1.4km (***)
Mons-en-Pévèle 1km (n/a)
Bersée 1.4km (n/a)
Orchies à Beuvry-la-Forêt 1.4km (***)
Sars-et-Rosières à Tilloy-lez-Marchiennes 2.4km (***)
Brillon à Warlaing 1.4km (n/a)
Wandignies-Hamage à Hornaing 3.7km (****)
Hélesmes à Wallers 1.6km (***)


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