Cobblestones in the Tour ‘nice, but especially for the television viewer…’

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NOS Cycling

“It’s going to be fun,” says Tadej Pogacar with a small smile. “Especially for the people who watch television…”

Ever since the announcement of the route of the 109th Tour de France, today’s stage has been eagerly anticipated. Eleven cobbled sections await the riders, all in the last 73 kilometers of the stage from Lille to Arenberg.

The riders don’t have to go through the Forest of Wallers or over Mons-en-Pévèle or Carrefour de l’Arbre, the toughest sections of the spring classic Paris-Roubaix. But still, with almost twenty kilometers of cobblestones, it is a stage that the riders have expressed fear or are looking forward to.

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The profile of the fifth stage of the Tour

It is not for nothing that Pogacar made his appearance in the Tour of Flanders in April. And how, he competed for the win until the last hundreds of meters. And Primoz Roglic showed himself a few weeks earlier in the French cobblestone race Grand Prix de Denain.

Cobblestones are, even more than with (possible) fan formation, a guarantee of spectacle. Driving over the stones is an art in itself, agility and luck fight for priority, because material breakdowns are always lurking.

That is why the cycling world is not entirely enthusiastic about cobblestone stages in large rounds, because a flat tire or broken bike at the wrong time can also lead to a loss of minutes for a rider in top form.

Degenkolb and Boom triumph on cobblestones

The Tour peloton was last on cobblestones four years ago. In a stage with a finish next to the Roubaix cycling track, John Degenkolb was victorious, four years after Boom had won a cobblestone stage to Arenberg.

The then Belkin rider, the predecessor of Jumbo-Visma, had already set his sights in advance on that ride in the north of France. “As a classic rider I had decided to ride for myself that day. So I started with ambition.”

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Lars Boom in 2014 on the cobblestones in the Tour

It helped that the rain came pouring down from the sky and made the course very slippery. “That actually only suited me better. As a cyclocross rider you have an advantage because you are more daring on the bike. You are a bit more technical and that technique comes to the fore in such a ride. So I started with a lot of confidence. “

Even before the cobblestone sections presented themselves, the wet road surface caused crashes, which put an end to Chris Froome’s Tour, for example. Boom, on the other hand, stayed on his feet and was part of a strong leading group.

For him it was important to wait with attacks, until the last strips. “I could follow that day. I only had to crawl out of my hole in the final. I did that in the penultimate stretch.”

Cobblestones in the 2014 Tour: Boom’s heroic victory, Nibali’s golden grip thanks to Westra

The leading group thinned out to four men. In addition to Boom, the group consisted of Vincenzo Nibali, who laid the foundation for his later Tour victory in the cobblestone stage, Jakob Fuglsang and Lieuwe Westra. On the last stretch, the superior Boom got rid of his fellow escapees to cross the line solo in Arenberg. “My parents, my wife, my children were standing at the finish. That was so bizarre.”

‘Taken with both hands’

Boom fulfilled a promise with his heroic stage victory. “As a rider you want to win stages in the grand tours. For the type of rider I was, that’s very difficult. I was a classic rider, so I had to rely on breakaways in sprinters’ stages, or a semi-mountainous ride where they gave you a pass. Or a ride like this, and they don’t come around very often. So I grabbed this opportunity with both hands.”

With his stage victory, Lars Boom ended a nine-year void. Pieter Weening’s last Dutch stage victory was in 2005. “I have never been able to win a classic. I did, however, once sprint for the victory in Paris-Roubaix, then I finished fourth. But that stage win in the Tour makes up for that a little good. That’s what brought it to me.”

In no other stage, except perhaps the time trials, material choice is as important as in the cobblestone stage. At Trek-Segafredo, the riders today ride with tires that are about six millimeters wider than normal: 34 to 28 millimeters.

“That is mainly for comfort, but you can also ride faster over the cobblestones, because you have more grip,” says Koen de Kort, former rider and nowadays support manager at Trek.

Wider and even wider

“We normally already drive with reasonably wide tires,” says De Kort about the 28-millimeter tires“Many teams ride with tires of 25 or 26 millimeters. And that is already wider than it used to be when I just started as a pro, then we drove with 21 to 23 millimeters wide.”

Driving on cobblestones: tire width and air pressure are crucial

The pressure in the tires is also adjusted. “Many teams drive tubeless, which are tires without an inner tube, but with a milky substance that is immediately sealed again if you have a puncture. We are also driving on that today. Where we normally drive at about six bar, everyone is now under the pressure. four bars.”

But much more important than the pressure in the tires is the pressure in the head of the riders. Because whatever happens on the cobblestones, anyone who keeps the peace and overview in the chaos has a good chance of emerging from the dust as the winner.

Watch Herman van der Zandt’s preview of Wednesday’s stage below:

Stage 5: Jean Stablinski and the cycle paths around Arenberg that his mother always used