A Stoned Tour de France

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.

Cannondale team rider Peter Sagan of Slovakia leads a group of riders during the 155.5 km fifth stage of the Tour de France cycling race

21 thoughts on “A Stoned Tour de France

  1. I think I agree with Cancellera where he stated he doesn’t feel they belong in a grand tour. But I do agree with you that it was a spectacular race. Just curious, were you a jackhammer on the pavé? 😃

  2. Pro riders can not be choosy….they get paid to do a job. The pave was part of the parcours for this year and as it turn out there were not as many crashes as on the smooth tarmac!. Next they will be asking if we should do the Col de Tourmalet or any other high mountain as it is to hard and the descent dangerous. #turningintosoccerplayers

    • Yes, but I suppose there needs to be limits set. They wouldn’t put a cyclocross stage in, for example. I’m with you, though. The cobbles are part of the history of the sport. They deserve to be there.

  3. After staying up into the early hours of the morning watching the stage unfold I thought this is exciting, there should be more of it. Alberto played it safe as he is entitled to do and lost time, I’m sure he has a plan now. They should always have a variety, what about dirt roads? It’s a tour of France not France’s best roads. How many kms was the pave? 16 out of 3,000. I think to win the General Classification you should be able to handle this.

      • Actually, if I read the Article right, the Tour of Alberta in September will have some dirt/gravel road sections in it. So maybe TdeF next.

        • Yep! we do have short memories. If you look at some photos of the TdF they were all raced on dirt roads/tracks (Ok it was the early days!). Even up to the 50’s the TdF had some rough roads!!

  4. Interesting that Cancellara said that, but it somehow makes sense from his perspective. The converse is very possible if cobbles became a regular feature in the grand tours: GC contenders queuing up to race in the Spring Classics, Cancellara’s sand pit. I think the cobbles should be a regular feature in TdF and the strade bianche for GdI; they are both firmly in the road cycling history and tradition, not some random novelty being pitched by a contemporary promoter.

    • It’d be interesting to know how often they’ve been used in the race. I’ve got not idea. Were these types of stages a regular part of the TdF in the 60s and 70s, for example?

      • Not sure about 60s and 70s specifically, but asphalt surface is relatively in the last 100 years so cobbles and gravel were not unusual? Whether the specific cobbled sectors were included is a separate question, however…

    • I doubt TDF GC contenders will ever queue up for the ‘hard men’ races, albeit Wiggo did and rode a champion’s race. Guys like Contador, Froome, Rolland, Van Garderen..nah….Also that stage was 156kms with a few stretches of pave…Paris Roubaix is 255kms with 50km of cobblestone roads spread over 27 sections. That’s just my opinion..I could be wrong.

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