Today sees the peloton charging through Belgium as they tussle with the gnarled cobbled teeth which have crowned many a legend, as well as slaying them. Worst case scenario for these riders was a long dry period for the route in recent weeks, combined with a heavy downpour and deceptive winds as the race departed from Ypres. This nightmare has come to fruition.
The silky roads which previously offered riders salvation from the cobbles are now greasy rinks, with enough white stripes to end a rider’s Tour. Cobbles which were thought of as punctures waiting to happen are now slimy with moss and coated with a layer of mud for even greater anxiety. Those unable to cope with the jarring stones are now unable to find the calming gutter as refuge as the rain forms rivers which hide the risks beneath their surface.
ASO wanted drama, the weather today will ensure that such displays are beamed around the world, but race drama is where it should stop. Nobody wishes a broken collarbone or chipped wrist upon their fellow man, nor should it be seen as thrilling entertainment when a GC contender comes crashing down with his ambitions before the mountains were even seen to loom upon the horizon.
The peloton lacks experience with this territory and terrain; breaks will occur and the tempo shall ramp up heading in the sectors as bottleneck form behind. One error could not only eliminate a single rider’s involvement this year, but end a season or jeopardise a career as contract talks bubble up again.
Johan Van Summeren is a former winner of Paris-Roubaix and is a Belgian with enough grit to weather the inevitable storm; be that figuratively or literally.
Niki Terpstra took the sole cobble everyone wants to own this year but has not looked particularly sharp during the opening three days in England; especially when things got steep.
Greg Van Avermaet always pulls something out of the bag when it counts, often waiting for the perfect moment to strike as he attacks late with neat calculations.
Sep Vanmarcke is incredibly talented when it comes to the classics and yet still lacks a marquee win to prove so; perhaps today’s mini-Roubaix will fall neatly into his hands.
Sebastian Langeveld has the form to be in the mix for this classic style stage today and is heading into this with the Dutch bands across his chest; the man may well have hit a peak to end up crossing the line with arms aloft.