How 22km of cobbles could shake up the GC before the first week’s over...
The sense of expectation created by Christian Prudhomme’s confirmation that the 2018 race will feature nearly 22km of cobbles says everything about why they are back on the Tour menu. The TV audience will be huge on that Sunday, which also features football’s World Cup Final later in the evening.
Froome, of course, never made it to the cobbles when he slid out of the Tour on a rainy day in 2014, but insists that, while aware of the risks they present to every GC contender’s prospects, he’s quite happy to tackle them. “Contrary to what people think, I like the pavé,” he affirmed in Paris before joking that he might line up for Roubaix next year as preparation.
Others, notably Nairo Quintana and Movistar’s management, were not as upbeat. There are 15 sectors of cobbles equalling 21.7km, the most since 1981, on a stage of just 154km, a dozen of them packed into the back end of it. The most notorious sections from Paris-roubaix may be missing, but they do take in four and five-star stretches that feature in “The Hell of the North”, notably at Tilloy, Auchy, Mons-en-pévèle and Camphinen-pévèle.
The cobbles always claim a GC victim or two. If it rains, the gaps the pavé creates could end up being substantial.
Vincenzo Nibali’s proved his prowess on the pavé in 2014