Sunday, July 15, 6:50 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. ET
This short but intense stage could end more than a few Tours. Almost 22 kilometers of pavé, spread across 15 sectors, await the peloton. This slightly condensed version of Paris-Roubaix will include some of the legendary sectors from “The Hell of the North,” including those at Camphin-en-Pévèle (1,800 meters) and Hem (1,400 meters). The last sector comes a little more than six kilometers from the finish next to Roubaix’s velodrome.
The distance of pavé will be a record for the Tour in the 21st century and is sure to shake up the contenders for overall victory. Something always happens on these northern roads. In 1979, Bernard Hinault lost three minutes on them after puncturing twice, though he went on to win his second Tour.
More recently, in 2014, Vincenzo Nibali added a little more luster to his yellow jersey by taking a major advantage on the stones. Leader of the general classification since stage 2, the Italian put in an amazing ride, reaching the finish at the start of Roubaix’s infamous Arenberg Forest section in third place, just 19 seconds behind stage winner Lars Boom. More significantly, he was well ahead of his rivals for the overall title. In doing so, he laid the foundations for his final victory.
“When I think back to that day, I can taste the mud covering some of the sectors immediately returning to my mouth,” Nibali says. “It was a grueling day, not only physically, but also mentally. You have to be determined and fully focused from the first to the last kilometer. I’ve always felt quite at home on that particular terrain. I don’t train on it very often, so that perhaps stems from my good technique and bike handling. What’s more, I’ve never been afraid when riding on the cobbles.”
Even though Nibali took a massive step toward his 2014 Tour success on the pavé, he is not sure how events will play out this year.
“Every race has its own story, and it’s hard to write it beforehand,” he says. “In 2015, the Tour also featured some cobbled sections in the north but, despite my pressing, they didn’t really have any impact. However, this year’s menu will be much heartier.”
Check back after the race.