Tour de France Stage 5 Preview

The fear stage. Today the Tour de France borrows a day from April and uses the cobbled farm tracks of Paris-Roubaix and if there’s not a mountain in sight this stage is crucial for all the overall contenders. A summer classic? Perhaps but the weather forecast predicts grim conditions straight from the spring.

Stage 4 Wrap
The trouble with asking for a sprint royale is that you get a king. We wanted a contest between the sprinters but got a coronation. Still King Kittel III had to work harder than his predecessors of recent days. Coming into the final straight Mark Renshaw eased up of Alexander Kristoff’s wheel to create a gap hoping to force Kittel into a longer sprint but the German played it cool and chose his own moment to sprint and beat Kristoff on the line with Arnaud Démare finally showing he can rival the others too. At the risk of lèse-majesté can I point out Kittel’s sprinting style gives him the air of a beefy Chris Froome? It’s less angular but look at the knees pointing out and watch how he even dips the head to view his stem during the sprint. Once you start seeing it you can’t un-see it.

The stage was marked by an early crash with Chris Froome who landed on his left side, seemingly scraping the scars from the Dauphiné. He was left shaking his hand and wrist and the latest is that he’s good to ride but this news took several hours to emerge yesterday as opposed to a five minute “he’s fine” response. If his wrist is sore it’s going to be even more sore after today’s stage. Andy Schleck didn’t start and Greg Henderson crashed out, reducing Lotto-Belisol’s sprint chances further.

The Route
A start in Ypres with a commemoration of the WW1, where the King of Belgium will send the race on its race from the Menin Gate to the Military cemetery where the KM0 point. The Tour is meant to be a festival but can’t ignore the locations it borrows for a day. Then it’s through familiar places like Wevelgem and Roubaix. The cobbles rightly hog the attention but there are some awkward roads before which twist and turn. These start right after Wevelgem and continue after the race passes Roubaix. Here the race picks up the route of the classic in reverse although it ignores the cobbled sectors for a while.

The sectors above start with 68km to go and if we add the intermediate sprint as a pressure point it means 10 important sections for the next 60km. ASO haven’t given the sections star ratings (the Tour avoids the worst sections so the star ratings would look a bit flat) but the names should be familiar. Carrefour de l’Arbre for starters… but the race is in reverse only goes to the carrefour, the crossroads and doesn’t continue onto the legendary section. Still each section is hard and their accumulation is even harder.

  • Update: cobbled sectors 7 and 5 have been removed from the route because of the bad weather and flooding.

The Finish
No velodrome but a familiar route all the same. The final 5.5km are on tarmac as race takes the Paris-Roubaix route in reverse towards Wallers-Arenberg and then switches at the last moment to take the same direction as the classic, borrowing the very same roads as the spring classic takes on the approach to the Arenberg Trench section. It’s also the same finish that the Tour used in 2010. As the map below shoes there are some twists and turns and the roundabout with 4km to go is small and then the road is on relatively small residential roads before the flamme rouge and the left turn to finish outside the old Arenberg mine.

There are two ways to see the cobbles. First is the fearsome stones that break bikes and bones and this creates a vicious cycle of nervousness and pressure which leads to mistakes and breaks. The second is to see this as only a fraction of the contest of Paris-Roubaix, today’s stage is only 155km and the pavé total 15.4km rather than the 50km. If the race visits the Hell of the North, it’s only the first circle.

There are two races today: the fight for the stage win and with it the yellow jersey and the defensive contest between the GC candidates not to loose any time. Which means a different kind of race, because the GC teams will look to set an even, high pace for the race in order to pace their riders through the sections. Should a cobble specialist decide to take a flyer they could find Sky, Tinkoff, Movistar, Belkin, BMC Racing and other teams bearing down on them.

We can expect an early move to go clear perhaps with a few optimists hoping to take an option on events, being up the road is the guaranteed way to enter the cobbled sectors first. But behind expect the teams to set a fierce pace as they try to deliver their leaders into position. The cobbles are tough but often the big stress is the sprint for position ahead of the sector.

Expect some to lose plenty of time. The likes of Pierre Rolland have already surrendered time while yesterday’s stage briefly saw Joaquim Rodriguez caught out in the crosswinds. Today will see many more punished for the slightest handling error.

The Contenders
Today’s the day for the classics specialists to kick mud in the face of the climbers who will make their race hell for the next two weeks. So we revert to the obvious classics names.

Fabian Cancellara is the prime pick. He’s shown his form on the opening stage when a late attack left the sprint trains scrambling to bring him back. In addition his Trek Factory Racing team are bound to be behind him, he’s not needed to protect the Schleck Bros any more.

Next is Alexander Kristoff. There’s a good chance of a sprint from a reduced group and the Norwegian is in excellent shape and one of the fastest in the race. After him there’s a similar story for Arnaud Démare.

Niki Terpstra is an obvious pick but he’s a solo specialist and it’ll be hard to ride away. That’s might sound obvious but he’d probably find it easier after 245km than 145km and to complicate things he crashed yesterday and didn’t look his usual mellifluous self pedalling back to the peloton. Otherwise we could look to Peter Sagan, John Degenkolb and Greg Van Avermaet to win from a sprint too.

As for the overall contenders we can expect to see them surrounded by bodyguards. Geraint Thomas thrived on the pavé in 2010 but this time could be on duty for Chris Froome. The same with Belkin where Sep Vanmarcke and Lars Boom are contenders for the stage win but might be shepherding Bauke Mollema for the day. Ditto for Sebastian Langeveld with Andrew Talansky although the American might be protected by Johan Vansummeren instead. Given the weather is foul, watch Sylvain Chavanel and Heinrich Haussler too.

What about the GC riders? It’s hard to rate their skills and besides they could be sunk by the crash of another. It’s a lottery, remember in 2010 Andy Schleck was fifth on the stage while Frank crashed out. Each team with GC ambitions will try to pace their riders, surrounding them with bodyguards.

Fabian Cancellara, Alexander Kristoff
Arnaud Démare, Peter Sagan, John Degenkolb
Niki Terpstra, Greg Van Avermaet, Sep Vanmarcke, Michał Kwiatkowski
Sylvain Chavanel, Sebastian Langeveld, Jurgen Roelandts, Lars Boom
  • Talking of chainrings note Chris Froome uses oval chainrings. This means varying chain tension and it’ll be interesting to see if he uses them today because a slack chain on the cobbles can mean a dropped chain
  • On another technical matter the order of team cars is being touted as important issue. I’ve put the order on Twitter already but am unsure about the importance. It helps to have your car close but the final 60km are going to be so fast that any mechanical could prove ruinous

Weather: wet. A rainy day on the Tour de France is hard for many but today of all days makes it harder. The cobbles don’t offer much grip on the best of days but when the polished stones are wet it’s even worse. It hasn’t rained in Paris-Roubaix since 2002 and some riders in the bunch know what it is to race on wet cobbles but plenty don’t.

It’s forecast to rain for much of the day and it’ll be cool too at 15°C. The wind will blow at 20km/h from the west meaning a light crosswind but if it picks up this will only add to the difficulty.

TV: live from start to finish, 1.45pm to 5.30pm Euro time with the cobbles reserved for the last 90 minutes.

73 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 5 Preview”

  1. What do you think of Albasini’s or perhaps Gallopin’s chances of hanging with the front bunch and taking yellow? Can’t be as likely as Sagan or Van Avermaet but both are fast finishers.

  2. We’re getting rained on in the Dolomites at present, so perhaps we’ll arrive early to Cortina and catch a big chunk of this stage on TV from the warm, dry comfort of our hotel. Looks to be very interesting and I say CHAPEAU to ASO for including some variety and challenge to the Tour’s route. A grand tour should test more skills than simply who can produce the most watts going uphill or on a flat chrono route. How did Froome fall off (again)? Was it like his Dauphine mishap? While it would be a shame to see the guy out of the race, part of the challenge is staying upright on your bike for 3 weeks.

  3. Valverde and Movistar to wisely follow the favorites and sneak a stage on the GC errs? (Just a fantastical possibility,I know).

    • Win the stage? I can’t see that. Valverde did spend part of his spring trying a cobbled classic to hone his handling and positioning skills. This will help because he’s often been the victim of crashes and misfortune in the Tour.

  4. On yesterday’s stage – why do OPQS take to the front so early? They’re left exposed to a Giant Shimano surge every time. It’s becoming painful to watch.

      • They don’t look like they know what game they are playing. Sorry for them, but they shouldn’t have built their team around a sprinter. One crash and you’re left with a train carrying no one really.

        • Fair comment, but Sky built a team around Wiggins in 2011 and were stuck when he broke his collar bone (and would be stuck this year if Froome has to pull out). Point being it could affect any team, not just one built around sprinters. Plus OPQS have Terpstra for stages and Martin for the TT, so may be able to rescue something from the tour.

          • Probably. My view is that a GT team should have a GC contender, one or two climbers, a sprinter or two, and two or three rouleurs/domestiques/breakaway guys. I’m against specialization and against sprint trains and take advantage of every situation to argue against it. 🙂

          • Well, Cannondale is built around Sagan. Giant Shimano is built for Kittel. Sky is built for Wiggins. Movistar is all about Valverde. Astana is for Nibali, etc.
            You take any of those guys out and you have a team without a leader. Sort of like Trek.

    • It looks to me like it is modelled on what HTC used to do which would make sense given the number of common personnel between the two teams. The problem is that there are other teams with strong trains now and OPQS don’t have quite the same strength of rouleur that HTC did to pull it off. Terpstra is strong and Martin was in both obviously but HTC used guys like Grabsch, Hincapie, Bak and Lovkvist.

      The OPQS train also has too many sprinter/lead out men in Cavendish, Gerrans, Petacchi and Trentin. I realise Petacchi is Cav’s mate but it isn’t clear what purpose he serves in this team.

      The really need to hold back until 3k out and then do the same thing only fully committed. If they do that Renshaw may not win but it will be a damn sight harder for Giant.

  5. I guess Froome’s bike handling skills leave something to be desired. Maybe Contador or Nibali will oblidge to teach him a few things: Don’t look at your stem, look at the road ahead.

    • That’s a bit harsh to say the least. If somebody takes your front wheel out there’s not a lot you can do about it whoever you are.

      • George did say that he was guessing, and so presumably hadn’t seen the footage. Anybody who did would know that it wasn’t Froome’s fault, though it was Sky’s fault for leaving him without a bodyguard.

  6. I don’t expect Garmin, Belkin and BMC to use their cobble power merely to protect their climbers. Not only they could grab the stage and the yellow jersey, they could dramatically increase the podium chances of their GC contenders if they attack successfully. No quarter today!

  7. Contrary to popular belief Osymetric chainrings do NOT cause chain tension loss. The rear derailleur does not move back and forth while pedaling; the chain remains securely engaged to the front chainring and just moves up and down following the small/large diameters of the unique non-circular shape.

    From a bio-mechanical point of view, Osymetric chainrings eliminate the dead spot in the pedal stroke (top and bottom dead center), so you can KEEP power and tension on the chain constantly, this is not possible with round rings (pedaling squares is an extreme example of that). That being said, you don’t see the entire peloton dropping their chains in the spring classics, so my point being that Osymetric rings are more of an advantage rather than a hindrance for rough surfaces.

    Also just like Osymetric chainrigns have a ‘learning curve,’ going back to circular ones is certainly a strange experience, the best way to describe it, is that the bike feels like having super under inflated tyres so you have absolutely no ‘jump.’ Therefore switching back to circular chainrings for just one stage on short order would be a very very bad idea for anybody, GC contender or not.

    • Isn’t the issue with the oval rings more to do with front mech positioning than chain tension?

      If the chain gets bounced of the ring while the chain is a long way below the cage there is more chance it will bounce off. With round rings the chain is always in the sweet spot within the cage where it helps prevent chain loss.

      • The chain never really bounces on the top of the chairing (even with circular ones), the derailleur keeps it tensioned pretty well. Plenty of teeth to engage while on the big ring and there is a chain catcher if things go awry while on the small ring. Of course exceptions do happen, however, they are just that – one in a million freak occurrences.

        Getting to think about it, Froome might be the first one to use Osymetric chainrings in a WT cobbled race so it will be interesting to watch nonetheless

  8. I’ve heard some saying the dangers are overstated with it being so much shorter than Paris-Roubaix and with there only being 15km of pavé.

    At the other extreme, I heard Geraint Thomas describing it as ‘last man standing’.

  9. Cancellara is ‘only’ 35sec down on GC. On any other stage a rider that high up on GC would never be allowed to get away, but with the technical nature of today’s stage could Fab do enough to take yellow?

    • this assumes that Sagan, Van Avermaet, Kwiatkowski, but also Kristoff etc. just let Cancellara ride away. I think Sagan or Van Avermaet are much more likely to take yellow today. And they should be favorites for the win too, along with Cancellara.

  10. Any possibility that the GC teams will effectively neutralize today’s stage because of the rain making it a lottery? I ask because none of the main GC contenders are cobble specialists and so just getting through this stage is likely to be the desired outcome for all the teams with GC hopes. As much as I am looking forward to today’s stage I’d hate for some of the main contenders to crash out so early on. The pictures of those wet cobbles I’ve seen posted on Twitter – shivers…

    • I wouldn’t like to see it neutralised, because it’s all part of bike racing. No-one wants to see a crash end someone’s Tour, but the danger of a GC contender losing significant time due to poor tactics/skills/teamwork is exciting. If a team knows their GC rider is especially vulnerable to injury on the cobbles (Froome with a dodgy wrist? Shleck(s) in a different year?) they have the option of easing off, and accepting the possibility of losing a few minutes to be made up elsewhere. Maybe it’s analogous to attacking on descents – if you want to take the high-risk approach then go for it, if you don’t, then ease off and lose a bit of time. Of course you have to guard against losing buckets of time (Valverde in the crosswinds last year), but that’s the fun of it!

        • Sorry, I don’t think that I articulated my question well. I didn’t mean officially neutralized, but effectively neutralized by the teams. The GC teams may well all just take the cobbles a bit easy given the wet makes them so dangerous. A ridiculously hard or dangerous stage will give rise to conservative riding as there is too much at stake. However, Froome’s crash yesterday will certainly encourage GC teams to put a winged favourite under pressure. It will be nail biting but thrilling I’m sure.

          • Those who are more likely than others to gain time today have no reason to refuse a battle. And those who are not Froome and Contador, who are very unlikely to win the TdF in “lab conditions”, could get today an advantage that could lead them to overall victory. As I see it, there are more teams with reasons to compete fiercely today, than there are with reasons to wish the stage is “taken easy”.

    • I totally agree. This stage with it’s luck and lottery element in my opinion was put as the only way to ‘derail’ the SKY train (among others). While impressive how they can can be so dominating at that level, it makes for a very boring race, and nobody wants that for a 3rd year in a row.

  11. While Nibali is no classics warrior who is happier to be on cobbles than in a feather bed, the fact remains that he’s one of, if not the best bike handler in the wet out of the current peloton, so therefore the predicted miserable conditions might give him an advantage over his GC rivals. Just a thought.

  12. With regards to OPQS sprint train, i believe they are trying to force everyone to go anaerobic to stay in the chase. Kittel is a big muscle unit requiring large oxygen so when he hits the red i believe they thought Cav could hold in that zone for longer.

    Cav used to use a second burst/kick in sprints so it would be fair to presume his anaerobic capacity is greater (size for size). The smaller racers among you will know to beat a big guy you need to force him to go in the red for longer than he can handle. Imo they are trying to goad him into a longer sprint. The consequence of him not going early/red is a large enough gap forms that can’t be bridged.

    I think everyone knows Kittel is the fastest so they are just trying something to limit his raw power being injected when he decides. I think what has caught a few people out is Kittel’s race craft and his knowledge of his own physical parameters.

    • That would explain why they started the train from so far out on stage 1, but why on earth are they still doing it from 5km when they’re down a sprinter? Have they forgotten that they’re missing a man at the back?

  13. Boo to ASO; let them have cobbles, this is too much. All the GC Contenders have been doing practice pave. Let them loose despite the rain.

  14. No, i believe they are testing their theory regardless of Cav being there. Did it look like Cav could have won that if he was in his usual position?

  15. With Froome abandoning the tour – what’s the possibility that Thomas takes over as their GC rider for the race and that this is plan B on the quiet. Porte has little or no form coming into this – so why back him ?

    • Well Nibali’s had no form at all in 2014 until the last 10 days and seems to be going fine. Watching the Dauphine I thought Porte looked stronger than Froome after his crash, on that last stage Froome was struggling to stay in Porte’s wheel. Plus as Mr. Ring has pointed out previously, Sky will have pored over Porte’s training numbers from their altitude camps, so must be convinced he can get the job done.

      In last year’s Tour Porte was probably the second strongest climber in the race, apart from one bad day on stage 9 where he lost 10 minutes he was always there hammering away on the front protecting Froome. If his form holds I can see him certainly in the top 10 at this year’s tour as he can both climb and time trial. In the penultimate time trials in 2012 he was 5th and in 2011 was 4th, so he seems to be strong throughout a grand tour.

  16. good to see Vanmarke looking so pleased for Boom when he finished – that stage could well have been his but for that late puncture. Was Mollema in his group at the finish?

  17. How does Talansky lose over 2 minutes to Nibbles when he barely crashed. Looked like he just put a foot down and bounced off a spectator. Plus he had 3 teammates with him. They also let Thomas and Porte bridge and then leave them behind. Was there another mishap I missed?

  18. Not for the life of me would I have thought that Nibali and Astana would put up such a strategically brilliant ride today. Lots of talk about keeping stages like this out of the Tour and with Froome exiting, that just guts so many of the fans. That being said, it was a great bike race to watch. So many races within the race. Did anyone else notice the huge smiles on Hinault’s and Merckx’s faces today? They loved it as well. Keep up the outstanding work Mr. Ring…

    • Lots of talk about keeping stages like this out of the Tour and with Froome exiting, that just guts so many of the fans.

      It’s critical that people realize Froome crashed before the race even hit the cobbles. Certainly the group was speeding along at a good clip while jostling for position, but how is this any different than the run-in to a narrow climb?

      I’ve read rumors that Froome actually broke his wrist during the crash in the previous stage, and that’s what contributed to his crashes today. The terrain may not have made much of a difference…

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