One of the hottest talking points following the announcement of the 2014 Tour de France route is stage five and its cobbles.
Following recent rumours, it was confirmed this morning that this stage will feature nine cobbled sections within the final 70 kilometres of the race, finishing in Arenberg.
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No Tour has featured this much pave since 1983.
It is very rare that we see Tour de France favourites ride on pave, as they tend to bypass the spring classics in order to concentrate on and keep safe for July, but this year they will be forced on the same roads that make up Paris-Roubaix, that most feared of one day races.
Given the rarity of the occasion, it is difficult to gauge which riders will flourish and which will flounder on such terrain, but a look at the last time the Tour encompassed such roads, in 2010, is instructive.
That time, Thor Hushovd won the stage ahead of a lead group consisting of a number of classics specialists (Fabian Cancellara, Geraint Thomas) and an eclectic group of GC favourites (Cadel Evans, Andy Schleck, Ryder Hesjedal).
Regarding the specialists, it will be interesting to see if the presence of this stage is enough to temp the likes of Cancellara and Tom Boonen to ride the Tour next year, having missed the latest edition.
As for the yellow jersey contenders in this lead group, Schleck’s presence was perhaps the most surprising, and reveals the importance of a strong and suitable team in such an environment.
Schleck is far from the best bike-handler (his brother Frank crashed out of the race on the same stage), but was able to follow the wheel of team mate Cancellara to stay at the front of the race.
Schleck’s main rival Alberto Contador, on the other hand, had no such adept a teammate, and as such lost over a minute to the Luxembourger.
All this bodes well for Sky.
In Geraint Thomas, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Ian Stannard, the British team have a trio of highly skilled riders capable of looking after Chris Froome on the pave.
Froome may have a dodgy history on such terrain – he crashed out of the 2008 Paris-Roubaix after crashing into a stationary car, but with such a team to look after him, he can be relatively confident of making it through unscathed.
Less assured will be Movistar. The Spanish team is full of lightweight climbers, like Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde, who are devastating uphill, but particularly vulnerable on cobblestones.
As a Spanish team the northern classics are low on their list of priorities, and as such their squad does not possess many riders who lead and protect their leaders through the chaos of the pave the way Sky can.
As Hesjedal and Evans’ success last time showed, the good bike handling skills acquired from a background in mountain biking may be a factor for riders not used to such treacherous roads.
With this in mind, perhaps ex-mountain biker Jackob Fuglsang and bike handler par excellence Vincenzo Nibali will adapt well.
And spare a thought for Joaquim Rodriguez. At 5 ft 7 in and less than 60 kilos, he has the least suited build for this sort of racing.
He will no doubt be dreading stage five more than anyone else.