2014 Tour Goes to Hell

Fotoreporter Sirotti

We are guaranteed at least one memorable Tour de France stage next summer.

I didn't catch today's Tour rollout, and anyway the details of these rollouts always seem to just barely eclipse the rumors that came out weeks before. Still, it's nice of the Tour to confirm our previously leaked understanding of next year's parcours. And also, thanks for this:

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Yes, that would be the final 72km of Stage 5, from Ypres to Arenberg/Port-du-Hainaut. A full 9 secteurs of Paris-Roubaix cobbles will happen on the course, making this the most brutal pave Tour stage since... not sure. 1985? How they will affect the race depends on too many unknowables, starting with the identity of the riders, so for now let's just examine the course and the stones in the abstract.

One note: all of these secteurs are being run in the reverse order from their April orientation. The stage runs south (and occasionally east) from Ypres in West Flanders, rather than running north from Compienge to the Lille area. [Future post: is this the mother of all WWI tribute stages?] This doesn't really change anything. Different, I guess, but giant, slippery stones are still giant, slippery stones, in all directions.

KM 87: Gruson - Carrefour de l'Arbre, 1100m (**)

This isn't quite the Carrefour de l'Arbre secteur you are thinking of... it's the next one. And the Tour is smart enough not to keep going into the more legendary terrain, sticking instead to this rather smooth and orderly array of stones. The lads need to warm up a bit... though at km 87, they've hopefully got the hang of crosswinds by now.

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KM 103: Ennevelin - Pont Thibault, 1400m (***)

Hm, there's a mention of Templeuve on the map, home itself to two secteurs, but neither is listed here. Presumably it's just being used as an orientation point and not a cobbled Trojan horse. In any event, here's the Pont Thibault secteur:

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I know I've got seven more of these to go, but it's time to point out -- this is going to be fucking mayhem. If there is any wind at all, the echelons won't close up too easily on the smooth sections, so the effect of stringing out the pack over these stones -- and more to the point, over these impossibly narrow roads -- is going to stick an ice pick in someone's Tour. Cavendish had better enjoy his little victory lap back in England, because he has no chance of surviving this stage for a sprint. In fact, I seriously doubt there will be anything resembling a sprint on this day.

Anyway, presumably ASO will send someone up to mow the cobbles before the stage. Apparently some nasty spots have been fixed up recently, but two 90-degree turns remain.

KM 110: Mons-en-Pevele, 1000m (*****)

Holy Mary, Mother of God...

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Sorry for that brief bit of religious breakup. It's either prayer or profanity with Paris-Roubaix.

The Mons-en-Pevele secteur needs little introduction, not after taking out Hincapie's steerer tube (and collarbone) in 2006. However, the five-star rating may or may not be accurate here. Of the 3000 meters used in April, only a third of that is happening in July, and the April course consists of about 1/3 decent condition, 1/3 deteriorating, and 1/3 horrible. It's possible that we're getting the initial portion, which I gather is more like three-star cobbles. Stay tuned on this one.

KM 114: Bersee, 1400m (***)

Slightly curved, recently repaired (2009) and ready for some serious action. This is half of a 2600 meter secteur rated four stars in the race itself, but this half is deemed three.

Here's a Creative Commons image. As you can see, it's a lot like it's neighbors. The devil with these secteurs is in the details, and you can see some sharper edges along the far side of the strip. I gather the ratings have been trued by now and this really is as bad as Pont Thibault.

Oh, and an action pic (Fotoreporter Sirotti):

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KM 125: Orchies a Beuvry - Foret, 1400m (***)

You sensing a pattern here? The Tour likes three-star segments at 1000 meters or so. Rough, but not too rough. This is the Secteur Marc Madiot, originally a 700 meter secteur, ignored by the race until 2007 when another 700 meters were laid and a new pave stretch was born. In April it rises uphill a bit at first, which means they'll go downhill a bit in July. That alone makes this a Secteur of Interest. Skinny climber dudes going extra fast on cobbles? Yikes.

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KM 131: Sars-et-Rosieres - Tilloy -lez-Marchiennes, 2400m (*****)

Not one, not two, but three 90-degree turns! That's the headline, but in general this secteur makes up in subtle punishment for a lack of spectacular punishment. A full 2400 meters is gonna be a long, long few minutes for anyone not Belgian or honorary Belgian.

Wikimedia photo here.

KM 135: Brillon -- Warlaing, 1400m (***)

Back-to-back with the Sars secteur, this is going to turn legs to jelly. Condition is OK, though the road starts sinking a bit.

Wikimedia pic here. As you can see, it's had some recent attention. Here it is in action:

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KM 140: Wandignies-Hamage - Hornaing, 3700m (****)

Recently given an extra star, presumably having to do with the distance. I cannot emphasize enough how miserable it is to ride these stones for nearly 4km. With this secteur coming at 16km from the finish, it should be a hugely strategic point as the few remaining stage contenders try to winnow the field. In other words, Sep will attack here.

More Wikimedia goodness. Not sure why I don't have archived photos... Anyway, it was used in the 2004 Tour, so the old guys will recognize it.

KM 149: Helesmes - Wallers (Pont Gibus), 1600m (***)

Excellent back story to this secteur. Apparently it used to be quite horrible, but as you can see, it's been made over. Such orderliness is temporary, however, and I'm sure it will be horrible again someday. For now, it's a 1600 meter cherry on a shit-sundae for all but the hardest of northern hardmen.

Overall theme: Only with Mons do they tinker with the truly nasty cobbles, and as I said up above it's probably skipping the nasty bits that give Mons its reputation. What's left are the intermediate Paris-Roubaix stones -- on par with the worst stuff you'll find in Flanders. And as mentioned above, there are sooooo many of them. A total of 15.4km of the infernal stones. This is going to be one Hell of a stage.

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