Tour roundtable: Was it worth it to ride the cobbles?
Cobblestone chaos! Pavé pandemonium! The Tour de France's stage 9 was billed as a wildcard — did it deliver the drama we wanted?
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Cobblestone chaos! Pavé pandemonium! The Tour de France‘s stage 9 was billed as a wildcard with 15 sectors of real-deal rough Roubaix cobblestones. Before they reached the stones, Richie Porte (BMC) crashed out. Then scores of riders, including numerous GC men hit the deck. Was this crazy spectacle worth having in the Tour? Which of the skinny climbers punched above his weight on the rough roads of Northern France? Let’s roundtable!
Stage 9 was a highly anticipated day on this Tour — did it deliver the blockbuster action we were promised?
Fred Dreier, @freddreier: It delivered, and then some. After several stages of boring flats, we were given an edge-of-your-seat stage on the pavé. Nearly every GC contender had to battle some type of crash or mechanical, and every sector of cobbles saw people fighting to stay on their bicycles. The drama of watching these riders fight back — Rigoberto Urán and Romain Bardet, for example — gave fans something to cheer. Look, I am extremely understanding of the perspective that these stages are lotteries and that the fate of the bike race is decided by luck. That may be, but it also requires so much skill to survive. We saw impeccable skill today by a number of riders.
Spencer Powlison, @spino_powerlegs: It did, but the action was limited to the final 20-30 kilometers of racing, so for me, it wasn’t what I’d hoped for. Plus, that excitement was limited to the stage-hunters. None of the GC men really took risks to gain time, which I found disappointing. Ideally, you see two races on a day like this: One for the stage and one for GC time.
Dane Cash, @danecash: It feels weird saying but … not really. It mostly just delivered crashes, and several of those were on the asphalt. John Degenkolb’s stage win was great to watch, but the big GC stars did not seem all that interested in trying their luck with attacks on the cobbles.
Which GC contender surprised and impressed you most on the cobbles?
Fred: I was really impressed with Chris Froome on the stones. Yes, he crashed, but he also spent most of the day near the front. He even marked attacks on several occasions. And unlike some of the other GC men who went down, Froome was back in the front group in a matter of minutes. I was also impressed with Nairo Quintana, who I predicted would lose time. Like Froome, Quintana was in that front group for much of the day.
Spencer: Quintana is the obvious choice for this honor, given how unproven he is on the pavé. However, I’m going to doff my cap to Chris Froome. He finished with the lead group, but more notably he did so after a crash that forced him to chase. Plus, he marshaled his Sky team to ride a blistering tempo across most of the cobbled sectors and even put in a few digs of his own toward the end.
Dane: I expected Dan Martin to really suffer on the cobbles, and that was before he crashed hard on stage 8. Instead, he even snatched some time on his GC rivals thanks to a sneaky bonus second sprint. Super impressive ride.
What is your evaluation of the GC race now that we’re headed to the mountains with Porte out of the race and Urán minutes behind overall?
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Fred: I still think the compelling GC story will involve the true leadership at Sky between Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, since Thomas owns a minute advantage on Froome. [Here’s Fred’s take on who should lead Sky -Ed.] Behind them, Tom Dumoulin, Romain Bardet, and Mikel Landa are all still in great position to challenge for the win.
Spencer: I think the GC race will be pretty conservative through the Alpes without Porte and BMC to take the initiative. I also worry that Urán is too far back to really make an impact if he goes on the attack. However, I’m optimistic that Movistar will take the fight to Froome. Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde are essentially even with him in the overall, and Quintana is 1:08 behind the defending champ. They need to attack, and they will attack. It might not happen until the Pyrenees though.
Dane: Porte getting knocked out of the picture is huge, as he was looking like the top yellow jersey contender not named Chris Froome. Urán I’m less worried about as he’d done a nice job through the first few stages and therefore only finds himself 1:11 down on Froome. The big winner today is Movistar. Getting Quintana, Valverde, and Landa safely to the mountains is huge. Now they can start applying some pressure on Sky.
Was the cobblestone stage a net positive or net negative for this year’s Tour?
Fred: Tough question. I really did want to see Richie Porte take on Chris Froome since Porte looked incredibly strong at the Tour de Suisse. I’m bummed for Porte. Twice in two years, he’s out on stage 9. But alas, staying on one’s bicycle is simply part of the Tour de France.
Spencer: It was a negative overall. This day was just such a crash-fest and a lot of those incidents were senseless, especially Porte’s. I’m torn because I strongly believe that the GC guys should have the chops to ride cobbles and handle their bikes, but on Sunday, everyone was crashing. Even Michal Kwiakowski went down, and he’s one of the best bike handlers in the peloton!
Dane: The loss of Porte is a huge bummer so the stage is a net negative in my mind, but that didn’t really have anything to do with the cobbles. That crash could have happened anywhere. The cobbles themselves were at the very least a push, even without any great GC battles on the pavé, because we got to see a great battle between Degenkolb, Van Avermaet, and Lampaert in the middle of July.