Cobbled concern grows in bunch

Fear and anticipation are rising 24 hours before two slithers of rustic French road threaten a day o

Fear and anticipation are rising 24 hours before two slithers of rustic French road threaten a day o
Stage three between Waterloo and Wasquehal is increasingly being touted as the highlight of the first week of the Tour. Taking inspiration from the route of Paris-Roubaix, it borrows two stretches of narrow, sinuous cobbled roads, both of which feature regularly in the legendary Spring Classic. The first 2,800m stretch of pav begins in Erre, 146km into the 202km stage. The second is the last 1,100 metres of the legendary Carrefour de l'Arbre, 61.5km from the finish in Wasquehal. Neither Lance Armstrong nor Jan Ullrich have ever ridden - or probably ever will ride Paris-Roubaix. According to Ullrich's team manager, Walter Godefroot, T-Mobile won't "purposely seek to take advantage of the cobbled sections," but neither will they require a second invitation to exploit a favourable and dramatic circumstances. "Let's be clear about one thing: this isn't going to be another Paris-Roubaix," Godefroot stressed in Charleroi on Monday morning. "I just hope that it stays dry, for everyone's sake. The cobblestones demand skill more than anything else. Skill and agility. I noticed that the last section is precisely where Johan Museeuw, Peter Van Petegem and Stefen Wesemann punctured during this year's Paris-Roubaix. A similar scenario this time would be a nightmare, as it's anyone's guess how quickly the service cars will be able to reach the riders." Of star man Ullrich's prospects, Godefroot commented: "Jan was once fourth in the German junior cyclo-cross championship. That discipline calls upon the same bike-handling abilities as the pav." Godefroot revealed that only Ullrich of the T-Mobile team had test-ridden the cobblestones. That was under the surveillance of personal coach Rudy Pevenage last week. By contrast, a full quotient of US Postal riders visited the double helping of 'Hell' late last week. One rider who could give Ullrich some advice on mastering the cobbles at the first attempt is Michele Bartoli. The CSC star fulfilled a long-term ambition by riding his first Paris-Roubaix this April. A performance which earned widespread plaudits was only marred by a puncture which put the Italian out of contention in the closing stages. Bartoli predicted this morning that the double whammy of cobbles "could cause as much damage as a high mountain stage." Asked about the secret of a successful first brush with the pav, Bartoli claimed that a cool head and sound technique can count for more than brute force. "I only weigh 65kg, so am much lighter than a genuine cobbles specialist," the CSC star told procycling this morning. "However, I found that this didn't matter as long as your pedalling arc is very round and smooth. This ensures that you don't jump around on the cobblestones and lose purchase. People expect the Spanish climbers to really struggle on the cobbles, but that's not necessarily so. When we went to reconnoitre the cobbles last week my team-mate Carlos Sastre, for instance, coped well. It's all in the pedalling action." Other teams fearing a bumpy first ride on the cobbles for their leaders have adopted more desperate measures than a quick lesson on pedalling dynamics. "We have been giving him a slab of pav every night for dinner," said soigneur Eric Nachtegaerde of the induction Spaniard Juan Miguel Mercado has received at Quick Step. Asked by procycling to describe his sentiments about tomorrow's stage, Domina Vacanze white jersey hope Michele Scarponi used just two words: "terror and disgust."

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