Lille: Australian Michael Rogers predicts stage five of the Tour de France on Wednesday that passes over nine sectors of cobblestones will be “terrifying”.
Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) is one of key riders who have been assigned to help Spanish Tour favourite Alberto Contador in the mountains of the Vosges, Alps and Pyrenees.
But for Contador and every other contender for the overall win, concerns over the dangers of Wednesday’s 155.5km fifth stage from Ypres in Belgium to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut are at a high.
And they have only increased in the last 24 hours with the prospect of rain making the total of 15.4km of cobblestones even more slippery and treacherous.
Even if rain does not fall, there is every chances the cobblestone sectors, which are part of the Paris-Roubaix race course, will be even more hazardous as the rain of recent days has created a number of large pools of muddied water on them.
That is the prediction of Australian cycling legend Phil Anderson who rode on the cobblestones on Tuesday with a cyclo-touring group that he is leading on the Tour.
“Whatever happens, it’s going to be chaos with the water and mud already there,” Anderson said after Tuesday’s 163.5km fourth stage from Le Touquet-Paris Plage to Lille won by German Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) in a bunch sprint from Norway’s Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and French champion Arnaud Demare (FDJ.fr).
After four stages, Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) still leads overall by two seconds from Slovakian Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Switzerland’s Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE).
But the overall order is expected to undergo major reshuffle on Wednesday after the the damage of stage five is known.
Rogers laughed light heartedly when told of Anderson’s off-the-cuff forecast, but he was serious when he spoke of how he and his teammates would take on stage five.
“It is what it is … there is not much can do about it,” Rogers, from the ACT, said.
“All we can try to do is to get to that first section [of cobblestones after 87km] in front – in the first 30 riders - and I believe it is every man for himself from then on.
“It doesn’t matter if I lose 10 or 20 minutes, but it’s of utmost importance that Alberto gains time or limits his losses on some guys. It’s a terrifying stage for everyone.”
No one is spared the anxiety of a stage that Australian Richie Porte (Sky) said in his Tour diary for Fairfax Media on Tuesday could be as influential as a mountain stage.
For Porte and the Sky team, what is at stake was brought home to them on Tuesday when their leader, British Tour champion Chris Froome crashed after only four kilometres.
X-rays taken after the stage revealed no fracture to his wrist, but his injury could not have been timed worse than on the eve of a stage with cobblestones where the arms become shock absorbers to the punishment of riding over loaf-sized stones.
Welshman Geraint Thomas, one of Froome’s teammates whose job will be to look after Froome on the cobblestones, said such Froome’s accident was frustrating.
It is especially so, with it following three tension filled days in England where the peloton had to negotiate astonishing crowds that made racing more hazardous than usual, especially with the trend of many fans taking ‘selfies’ with their cameras.
"You're disappointed after getting through three rough days in the UK with the people and narrow roads. A crash like that after four kilometres is disappointing,” Thomas said.
"It's not ideal ahead of [Wednesday], but crashing's part of the sport. [Froome is] tough mentally as well as physically, and he's got a strong team to help him.”
Asked about the cobblestone sectors, Thomas said: “Quite a few of the sectors have corners as well, which will just add to the carnage. Not looking forward to it."