The thought of racing over some of the most dangerous terrain in this year’s Tour de France has left many of the race peloton, perhaps understandably, in collective denial mode.
Tuesday’s third stage from Wanze in Belgium to Arenberg in northern France features seven sections of cobblestones that are expected to take a heavy toll on the peloton, including many yellow jersey contenders.
Coming a day after the race route pays homage to Liege-Bastogne-Liege by riding into the Belgian Ardennes, the 213km ride into Paris-Roubaix country is one that not many of the peloton will have experienced.
“Around two thirds of the peloton haven’t got real experience of these kind of cobbles,” said Marc Madiot, a former winner of the Paris-Roubaix one-day classic and current team manager of Française des Jeux.
“When you go from racing on the tarmac to the cobbles, it is going to be a big shock.”
Racing on cobblestones not only shakes bike and body, and leads to punctures and potential race-ending crashes, but also spreads a general feeling of unease among the peloton.
Seven-time champion Lance Armstrong was among several riders to predict “carnage” on the sectors, the last four of which feature regularly on Paris-Roubaix – ominously known as the ‘Hell of the North’.
However, some believe the approach to the cobbles will cause most damage as teams with riders desperate not to lose time in the yellow jersey race hurry to stay at the front to avoid getting caught up in the melee.
“It will be a big fight tomorrow for everybody,” Garmin-Transitions team rider Johan Van Summeren, a Belgian who is used to the tough terrain, told AFP.
“I think that riding on the cobbles themselves won’t be the problem. The chaos will come when all the teams try to push to the front before the cobbled sections.
“The GC (general classification) riders don’t usually do the cobbles, eh?”
Ahead of Monday’s stage, some were preferring to keep all thoughts of the cobbles to the backs of their minds – Armstrong included.
The American, who started Monday still fourth place overall and the best-placed of all the yellow jersey challengers would likely not object to his key rivals losing time.
“It’s nice to think, but to be honest we’ve got to think about today – it’s a complicated stage and I don’t want to start thinking about that (prospect of tackling the cobbles),” said the American before Monday’s stage.
Britain’s Bradley Wiggins is one of the few yellow jersey men who is expected to fly over the cobbles as he has raced Paris-Roubaix several times.
His Sky team manager Dave Brailsford, however, was keeping his thoughts stage under wraps.
“We’ve got today’s stage to think about, when you start thinking about others you take you eye off the ball,” he told AFP.
“But our aim is to be at the front driving the race.”
Most teams have reconnoitred the cobblestones, and probably all will be using special frames to help absorb the shocks. In total there are 13.15 km of cobblestones, with the final sector of 2.3km at Haveluy – rated as one of the most difficult – ending 7.7km from the finish.
Contador brushes off slight leg knock on Tour
Reigning champion Alberto Contador was quick to play down the seriousness of a knock on his leg Sunday after being caught up in one of the many spills which marred the first stage of the Tour de France.
The 223.5km ride from Rotterdam to Brussels was a nervous affair which, particularly in a chaotic final few kilometres, saw a number of riders hit the tarmac.
Contador, who is the favourite to win the yellow jersey again this year, said his knock was nothing to worry about.
“Nothing that can’t be sorted with a little icing,” said the 27-year-old Astana rider, who has won the race in 2007 and 2009.
“There were a lot of crashes in the finale of the stage and I couldn’t avoid Fabian Cancellara who came down next to me.
“I fell into some riders who had already fallen, but I’ve come out of it more or less okay. I’ve got a big knock on my left leg, but it’s nothing serious.”
Cancellara, wearing the race leader’s yellow jersey, admitted earlier he had to brake hard to avoid a rider who crashed in front of him but was left flying over his bike and doing a somersault.
The Swiss, who rides for Saxo Bank, will take the race lead into Monday’s second stage from Brussels to Spa.
Contador meanwhile added his voices to those who complained about members of the public getting too close to the peloton for comfort.
“The amount of people lining the roads was among the main difficulties of the day,” he added. “(David) Millar and (Ivan) Basso for example crashed because people were sitting on the road.”
Crash ends Hansen’s Tour de France dream
Australian Adam Hansen left the Tour de France in agony, both physically and emotionally, after suffering broken shoulder bones in a crash on the race’s first stage on Sunday.
Hansen, who rides for the HTC-Columbia team of fellow Aussie Mick Rogers and British sprint ace Mark Cavendish, crashed early on the 223.5km crash-marred ride from Rotterdam to here, and appeared to damage his collarbone.
The Queenslander battled bravely to the finish, but later scans were to give him the sorry news that his bid to play a pivotal role in the team’s ambitions this year were over.
A statement later said Hansen would not start stage two of the Tour de France “due to broken bones resulting from a crash early in the first stage”, and although it did not specify the collarbone Hansen had complained of pain there after his crash.
It added: “Following the race, he was taken directly to hospital for CT scans which showed broken bones.”
Hansen’s powerful style of riding was to add fuel to Cavendish’s formidable sprint train for the bunch sprints of the flatter stages, and give Rogers some support on the early approaches to the climbs.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” Hansen said on returning from hospital. “I was really looking forward to this Tour and I’m upset now that they have to continue with only eight riders.
“It was one of those freak crashes. I briefly saw something on the road before I hit it and my bike skid(ded) across the field. Most riders managed to avoid me but at the last second I hit the back wheel of another rider and went down.”
Hansen will be taken to a specialist orthopaedic hospital in Germany for further treatment.
“We are very happy with the immediate care he received at the hospital here in Brussels,” said Team Doctor Helge Riepenhof.
“Hansen will now travel to our hospital in Hamburg so that we can make decisions on the best treatment.”
Team owner Bob Stapleton was equally sad to see Hansen leave the race.
“Adam displayed amazing loyalty to the team today by finishing the race and working extremely hard towards the end,” said Stapleton.
“He is an extremely valuable rider and we will definitely miss him at this Tour de France. For now his health is the most important thing and we want to give him the best care for a quick recovery.”
Farrar hits out, but Mondory says ‘no blame’
Lloyd mondory carries his bike to the line: AFP/Getty Images
Lloyd Mondory carries his bike across the line at the end of stage 1
Frenchman Lloyd Mondory offered his apologies to sprint star Tyler Farrar Sunday after the American missed out on what could have been a first win on the Tour de France.
However the AG2R rider said he was not to blame.
Farrar, who is bidding to win his first stage on the race having already triumphed at the Tours of Spain and Italy, found himself in the perfect position for a win after avoid a series of crashes which took out his rivals.
However in the final 200 metres the Garmin-Transitions fast man was shunted by AG2R rider Mondory, the blow breaking Farrar’s gear changer on his bike.
The American was quick to hit out at AG2R after the stage, won by Italian veteran Alessandro Petacchi of Lampre.
“Everything was going great, I felt good and the team was riding perfectly. Then, in the last 200 meters an AG2R rider hit my rear wheel and snapped my derailleur,” said Farrar.
“I literally couldn’t ride after that and had to walk through the finish and to the bus. It’s a shame because everything had gone so well and the team worked so hard for me.”
Mondory was later identified as the rider who clashed with Farrar in untimely fashion, but the Frenchman was quick to absolve himself of any blame.
He said Belgian Jurgen Roelandts came crashing into him from behind, pushing him uncontrollably towards the American.
“A rider (Roelandts) hit me from behind. I’m sorry for Farrar, but I couldn’t do anything about it,” he said.
Ironically, the Frenchman was one of several riders who ended up on the tarmac when Farrar’s big sprint rival, Mark Cavendish, caused a spectacular crash at the Tour of Switzerland last month.
Farrar’s team manager Matt White said they will be looking to relaunch his challenge in the coming days.
“Obviously, we went into today’s stage looking for a win for Tyler. He has the form and the team to deliver,” said White.
“An AG2R rider hit his rear wheel and snapped his derailleur in the last 200 metres. Unfortunately, that’s sprinting. We’ll be lining up in three days time to do it again.”
Tour peloton stunned by ‘crazy’ public
Britain’s David Millar and Australian Mark Renshaw hit out at the “crazy” attitude of the thousands of people who lined the road on the first stage of the Tour de France here Sunday.
The stage ended in a bunch sprint win for Italian Alessandro Petacchi, although the Lampre rider’s win came in the wake of three pile-ups in the closing kilometres.
However even before then, the peloton were given huge challenges as they raced, or tried, on the 223.5 km ride from Rotterdam along the windy North Sea coast south towards Brussels.
The first stage of every Tour de France is usually always fraught with danger, but that is usually down to teams pulling off every stunt imaginable in a bid to grab an all-important stage win.
Millar was among four or five riders who came crashing down when a dog ran out on to the road.
But he admitted he had crashed earlier because some members of the public got too close for comfort.
“Probably the most dangerous thing today was the public, I crashed early on because there were moments the public came leaning right out into the road,” said the Scot.
“That was the scariest thing today, not the winds. “There was so many hundreds of thousands of people, coming out on to the road and causing the riders to clip them.”
HTC-Columbia rider Renshaw is the lead-out man for British sprint king Mark Cavendish, who was left out of contention for stage victory when he crashed into Oscar Freire in the final two kilometres, also ending the Spaniard’s hopes.
Renshaw, who went on to finish second, later said he was stunned by the way some of the public were encroaching on to the road.
But the Aussie sprinter also pointed the finger at riders whose race nerves seemed to be getting the better of them.
“Generally the day was hectic. I haven’t ridden a race like that. It was crazy, at points it was beyond dangerous,” said Renshaw.
“We were trying to race through those roads at three abreast, and we couldn’t do that. “(The crowds were) unbelievable for the Tour, but absolutely too dangerous.
He added: “There was guys going down every five minutes. There were points we were riding 10/15 kilometres an hour, and they were still crashing.”
© AFP 2010