When Wednesday July 9
To Arenberg Porte du Hainaut
Where are we?
Starting in Ypres, which was virtually destroyed in the First World War as battles were fought in and around the town, the race heads back across the border into France and takes the riders over the dreaded cobblestones that make the Paris-Roubaix Classic so special. The start in Ypres is particularly poignant, as it marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the war.
What’s on the route?
This is a relatively short stage and there are no climbs on the route but it could have more effect on the overall picture than the toughest mountain stages. The riders will be nervous and it is sadly inevitable that the Tour will lose one or more of its favourites from contention, if not from the race altogether, today. There are nine sections of cobbled roads in the final 69km. The first section is the Gruson part of the famous Carrefour de l’Arbre, which is so often decisive during Paris-Roubaix. The longest section is the 3,700m Wandignies-Hamage à Hornaing, the penultimate stretch. There are just five kilometres to race after the final section at Hélesmes à Wallers. In total, the pavé roads add up to more than 15.
What might happen?
This could be the most unpredictable and dangerous stage of the whole Tour. The climbers, such as Chris Froome, Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali, may have checked out the cobbles in training but come race day they will realise how little that has prepared them for the experience. They will have to rely on more experienced team-mates to keep them out of trouble and steer a clear path for them over the pavé. There are bound to be crashes and punctures and the bunch will split up under pressure. It will be a case of surviving and limiting any time losses and then studying the results sheet to see who has made it and who has lost touch.
If you’re there
Visit the Menin Gate in Ypres, a huge, imposing structure at the edge of town, engraved with the names of thousands of fallen soldiers.
This is Paris-Roubaix country — predominantly flat farmland but with regular diversions to take in the many cobbled sections.