Yesterday’s stage was unarguably a great one to watch as a cycling fan (although maybe not a Sky fan). The pavé of northern France finally got wet and muddy and the race was blown to bits, just like everyone predicted.
The cobbles are particular. I’ve ridden most of the sections they did yesterday, so I, for once, have some first-hand knowledge on this. You need some weight to stop yourself from being bounced into a ditch on this jackhammer of a surface. It also doesn’t hurt to have raced on it, if you are a pro. And here is the thing: Many GC contenders these days just don’t do that. The cobbled Classics of the spring are a specialist event for the ‘hard men’ of the peloton and few, if any, can do well in Paris-Roubaix and finish in the top ten of a Grand Tour. Predictably, most GC riders yesterday suffered (the notable exception was Vincenzo Nibali, who now has a healthy lead over his main rival, Alberto Contador).
Tejay Van Garderen didn’t do too badly yesterday, but he suggested that the ASO should reconsider having cobbled stages in the TdF. Others said similar things. Nibali didn’t, (obviously) and the winner on the day, Lars Boom, said that those conditions suited him perfectly. Eddy Merkcx stated that he would have loved to ride that stage (duh..).
But back to the GC contenders. The man who wins a Grand Tour is supposed to be a complete package; someone who can climb, of course, but also a rider who can do well in time trials, which are the two main types of stages where time can usually be won or lost for these guys.
I guess my question is, should the cobbles be part of the ‘package’ anymore? They surely used to be (in Eddy’s day, for example – he won a few Paris-Roubaix and a few Grand Tours, you’ll remember). Has cycling veered over to specialist racing so much that only climbers who can time trial reasonably well can win Grand Tours? One of my riding buddies thinks the day of the ‘all rounder’ is coming back. I don’t have an opinion on that yet, but I think I am behind throwing in some pavé once every few years to keep things interesting.