One year ago, Tour de France riders awoke to horrendous conditions in Northern France as they prepared for stage 5 and got ready to face the cobblestones used in the “Hell of the North,” Paris-Roubaix.
For American Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin), it marked the beginning of his struggles before he would eventually withdraw from the 2014 edition of the Tour prior to the start of stage 12. Looking back, Talansky remembers what he gained that day, not what he lost.
“That [ride] gave me a lot of confidence, being able to do the cobbles in the rain,” Talansky told VeloNews days before the start of the 2015 Tour in Utrecht, Netherlands. “I’m not afraid of the cobbles, I look at it more as an opportunity than something to just get through.”
As a lanky climber, Talansky is not built for the pounding the body takes while riding over the cobbles. He wanted to enter this year prepared to go the distance, so he enlisted the help of one of Cannondale’s classic specialists. He set out to preview the sections of cobblestones he would face in July in early spring.
“Jack Bauer was kind enough to go out with me the day after Paris-Roubaix,” Talansky said. Talansky himself had just finished the tough six-day Vuelta al Pais Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country) stage race in the western Pyrenees. “We were both hurting a little bit, but we took over the cobbles, we went over them with speed, tested the equipment, same as I did last year.”
Talansky views reconnaissance as vital not only to being physically prepared for what’s to come, but also mentally. “It allowed us to get [the equipment] all dialed in and be mentally prepared for that day,” Talansky said.
On Tuesday, Talansky will join the peloton once again to tackle the cobblestones of northern France. The stage will be long and fatiguing, as the peloton faces 223.5 kilometers and seven sections of cobblestones totaling just over 13km. The cobblestones come toward the end of the stage.
For the slender climbers of the peloton it will be a day to stay out of trouble and survive, but the rider nicknamed ‘Pit bull’ sees the stage as a chance at redemption.
Last year, Talansky was having a decent ride on the cobbles during stage 5.
“I went off the road once on the cobbles, but I was actually, for my size and everything, of the best guys on the cobbles.”
All that changed when the peloton entered the Bersée section of cobbles.
“I had to avoid Jurgen van de Broeck doing a front flip. There’s not much you can do about that,” Talansky said.
As a result, Talansky veered off the road and crashed into some fans. Unharmed, he got up and continued, but the damage had already been done.
“I learned last year, the Tour is going to go how the Tour is going to go. You do all of the work, you do everything you can, and then the truth is, for you to get the result you are capable of you’re going to need a little bit of luck.”
Past years have shown the Tour de France is unpredictable. On any given day, anything can happen. Talansky has prepared well, but he is also at peace with the fact that anything can occur over the rough roads in the north of France.
“It’s not that you need everything to go perfectly, you just need to avoid anything going catastrophically wrong, like it did last year. That kind of gives me a little bit more peace of mind this year,” Talansky said.
After losing time on stage 1, Talansky will need a solid ride on the cobblestones to make sure his GC ambitions stay intact before the race reaches the mountains. The weather will be much more favorable this year, as partly sunny skies and temperatures in the low 80s are expected.
Once the dust settles in northern France, however, will Talansky know if he got the redemption he wanted on the cobblestones.
Caley Fretz contributed reporting to this story.