Ypres, Belgium – Organisers have cut two of the nine cobbled sections on Wednesday’s Tour de France fifth stage due to safety concerns after heavy rain.
The run from Ypres, Belgium to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut was meant to include nine cobbled sections totalling 15.4km.
But there will now be two less and 2.4km fewer to ride over the bumpy roads.
“This morning with Jean-Francois Pescheux (the Paris-Roubaix director) we did the final reconnaissance,” said Tour director Thierry Gouvenou.
“We found the route to be slippery, humid, but not very muddy. Even so, we decided to cut two sectors: Mons-en-Pevele, which is very difficult, very bumpy, and the one which carries Marc Madiot’s name (at Beuvry-la-Foret) because it’s under tress and there are a huge number of leaves which have made it very slippery.
“It’s a question of common sense, we didn’t want to throw the Tour de France peloton into these conditions, with the rain.”
Heavy rain during the night, which continued into Wednesday morning and early afternoon, had increased the danger associated with riding over cobbles.
Teams were informed about the change, which has reduced the total distance by 3km to 152.5km but still leaves seven sections and 13.4km of cobbles, 90 minutes before the start of the stage.
While organisers may have removed the most dangerous sections, it will be scant relief for riders already nervous about the stage.
Race leader Vincenzo Nibali spoke of his concerns following Tuesday’s stage finish in Lille.
“(Wednesday) it’s predicted to rain. We hope it won’t because this can complicate everything,” he said.
Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas also spoke of his worst fears for Wednesday’s tricky stage, a tribute to the epic one-day Classic Paris-Roubaix.
“It’s going to be a nightmare, no one’s looking forward to it, especially if it rains,” said Thomas.
“It’s just going to be like riding on ice, especially with some of the corners on the cobbles. It will be last man standing I think.”
Dutchman Lars Boom expects there to be a shake up in the overall standings at the end of the day.
“We can expect a true show,” said the Belkin rider.
“It will be just as nervous as the first three days in Great Britain. The main thing is to hold a good position.
“The several cobblestone sections are far apart from each other, too bad if you ask me, but I think there will still be some time differences at the finish.”
The last time the Tour passed through Paris-Roubaix’s most notorious territory in 2010 it claimed several victims.
Luxemburger Frank Schleck, brother of Andy who won the Tour that year, broke his collarbone in a crash on the cobbles.
Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel, a Classics specialist, went into the cobbles wearing the yellow jersey but lost it after falling once and suffering two punctures.
To try to minimise the risks, teams use specially designed bicycles just for the cobbles.
Italian Nibali rode the stage in preparation to discover what configurations his bicycle would require.
“More than anything my intention was to find out what material, wheels, etc, I needed to use,” said the Astana rider.
At Trek, three-time Paris-Roubaix winner Fabian Cancellara played a leading role in designing a bike specifically for the cobbles.
“That bike is a little bit different in that it’s longer. In Roubaix you have to go in straight lines and to steer the bike as little as possible, so by making a bike longer it’s more stable that way,” said Trek mechanic Jordan Ressingh.
“It also has clearance for larger tyres. Typically for a stage we use 22mm or 24mm tyres but for Roubaix we use 27mm tyres.”
At Cannondale they developed a bike that changes the position of the rider to a slightly less aerodynamic one.
“To get more comfort we sit the bike a hair more upright,” said head of marketing Jonathan Geran. – Sapa-AFP