The cobbles are finally here.
Stage 5 of the Tour de France is a day that has brought trepidation for many of the general classification riders and excitement for the classics men in the pack.
Cobbles in the Tour are often a divisive issue with some saying that they don’t have a place in grand tour riding. Nevertheless, the pavé always creates some drama and a thrilling day of action for the fans.
This year sees the first time since 2018 that the big stones feature in France’s biggest race. John Degenkolb won back then, and he is back to have another go this year with Team DSM.
Degenkolb is also a former Paris-Roubaix winner, and he says that taking on the cobbles at the Tour de France is an entirely different prospect to the ‘Hell of the North.’
“There is a big difference to approaching the stage, the tactics are completely different. Many classics specialist riders are having the task to protect their captain for the GC,” Degenkolb told VeloNews.
“When you look back in 2018, there were three guys in front, and in the end, in the back, there was nobody to pull for the stage victory because they were happy the stress was released, and most likely there’ll be a similar scenario tomorrow.”
With Team DSM going into the Tour de France without any GC intentions Degenkolb should have a free role to go for the victory on stage 5. It will be a very different prospect for many other classics men as they will have to stay with their team leader to ensure they make it through to the finish without any injury or time loss.
Reigning Paris-Roubaix champion Dylan van Baarle is one such rider and he’s unlikely to be allowed free to go for victory.
Ineos Grenadiers has one of the strongest classics line-ups at the Tour de France and Geraint Thomas has the most experience of GC men in the bunch, having finished in the top 10 at the one-day race before. The team also has Luke Rowe and Tom Pidcock among its line-up.
“We have one of the strongest classics teams here so I think most of the guys here know how to ride the cobbles so hopefully that will be an advantage,” Van Baarle told VeloNews. “We haven’t really spoken about it, but my mind is really on protecting the GC guys.”
Matching the might of Ineos Grenadiers in the GC team stakes is Jumbo-Visma, which also came to the Tour de France with a team ready to bash the cobbles with the likes of Wout van Aert, Christophe Laporte, and Nathan Van Hooydonck.
Given the way the team has been riding, it could well look to claim a stage win as well as taking time for its GC men.
With no view toward the overall classification, it will be Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl that goes into the stage as the overwhelming favorite for the win. The team has already enjoyed success with two stage victories this week and it will want more, with the likes of Kasper Asgreen and Yves Lampaert in the squad.
There are also the likes of Mathieu van der Poel, Matej Mohoric, Jasper Stuyven, and Mads Pederson that will be hunting for a stage victory here.
While it won’t be quite as brutal as the real deal of Paris-Roubaix, there will be plenty enough cobbles for the Tour de France riders to get a taste of the “Hell of the North.”
Starting in Lille, which is just a few kilometers west of Roubaix, the riders will head south in search of the pavé. There will be nearly 80 kilometers of road riding for the bunch to warm up before the cobbles arrive, a few more than had been previously planned after the organizers had to make a small change to the course that sees the race take a different approach to the opening sector of cobbles, but the pavé remains the same.
In total, there will be 11 cobbled sectors totaling 19.4 kilometers before the race concludes at Arenberg Porte du Hainaut. The final sector comes just seven kilometers from the finish line.
It is a day where big gains can be made and huge losses can happen with the cobbles always making for an unpredictable day of racing.