Feared cobblestones up next at the Tour de France
By JOSEPH WILSON
Jul. 14, 2018
AMIENS, France (AP) — Every cyclist at the Tour de France, from title favorite Chris Froome to the lowliest support rider, has Sunday circled on their calendar.
That's when the world's greatest bike race leaves behind the smooth asphalt and hits the tricky and often treacherous cobblestones.
Riders will try to stay upright as they bump and bounce their way over 15 cobbled paths scattered along 22 kilometers of the 156.5-kilometer course of Stage 9 from Arras to Roubaix, near the Belgian border.
For four-time champion Froome and most of other title contenders, the ride over the cobbles is about surviving. The top riders who fight for every second on normal roads usually prefer losing time to risking a fall that could knock them out of contention.
As Movistar veteran Alejandro Valverde puts it, "You can't win the Tour on the cobbles, but you sure can lose it."
There is one exception to the extreme caution usually shown by the team leaders.
Vincenzo Nibali, the last rider other than Froome to win the Tour, took a huge step to securing his 2014 title when he skillfully traversed the slick cobbles to extend his overall lead.
Valverde and Alberto Contador were both slowed by crashes and finished more than two minutes behind the Italian, as did Americans Tejay Van Garderen and Andrew Talansky. Froome had to withdraw from that fifth stage when he fell early before the course had reached the cobbles.
"Vincenzo has some good memories of the cobblestones," Paolo Slongo, Nibali's coach at Bahrain-Merida, told The Associated Press on Saturday.
"The idea is to try and earn some time but when you're on the cobbles, there's no specific tactical plan. It's a stage where you go all out. There are no tactics."
Froome did manage to make it through the cobbles in 2015 en route to winning his second Tour.
"I'm not scared," Froome said about facing the cobbles after their absence in the last two Tours.
The cobble, or "pave" in French, is as respected in cycling as the mightiest of mountains, and those specialists who have mastered the uneven surface are the clear favorites to win the stage.
Sunday's course will include some cobbled sectors used in the single-day Paris-Roubaix race.
Five winners of the Paris-Roubaix are riding in this Tour.
Overall leader Greg Van Avermaet, the Olympic road race champion, won the cobbled one-day classic in 2017. Here he is riding in support of BMC leader Richie Porte and he said he has the freedom to defend the yellow jersey in Roubaix.
"We will try to do both," Van Avermaet said. "We will try to keep Richie with me, but if I have to follow another rider or attack the other six guys (on the team) will take care of Richie."
World champion Peter Sagan, who won the Paris-Roubaix in April, has already won two stages at this Tour.
The other former Paris-Roubaix winners competing at the Tour are Mathew Hayman (2016), John Degenkolb (2015), and Niki Terpstra (2014).
Fortunately for those without such experience on the cobbles, the weather report calls for sunny skies. Rain can turn the paths into slippery quagmires of mud.
Riders can then rest their backsides on Monday when the racing pauses before resuming with three stages in a row in the Alps.
AP Sports Writer Andrew Dampf contributed.