The 2014 Tour de France event organisers knew full well what they were doing when they laid out Stage 5 of this year's race: A day that will commemorate the hell of the First World War in more ways than one.
From the start in Ypres to the finish in Arenberg-Porte Du Hainaut, the peloton will follow some of the most iconic and dreaded roads in all of cycling. Welcome to Wallers and the Hell Of Roubaix.
Date: Wednesday 9 July
Distance: 155.5 km
TV info and live stream: NBCSN (for U.S. viewers) and ITV4 (for U.K. viewers) will be broadcasting every stage of the 2014 Tour de France, with mobile coverage available via NBC Sports' Live Extra and the ITV Player app.
|Overall Leaderboard (Yellow Jersey)|
|2||Peter Sagan||Cannondale||+2 secs|
|3||Michael Albasini||GreenEdge||Same Time|
|4||Greg Van Avermaet||BMC Racing||st|
|7||Chris Froome||Team Sky||st|
|9||Jurgen Van den Broeck||Lotto||st|
|Points Classification (Green Jersey)|
|6||Arnaud Demare||BMC Racing||44|
|7||Greg Van Avermaet||Garmin||42|
|10||Andre Greipel||Lotto Belisol||37|
|Mountain Classification (Polka-Dot Jersey)|
|2||Blel Kadri||AG2R La Mondiale||5|
|9||David de la Cruz Melgarejo||NetApp-Endura||2|
|10||Chris Froome||Team Sky||1|
The pack will start the day in Ypres at the historic Menin Gate, where the Tour will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, which devastated much of the landscape the riders will see on Wednesday.
Via the city of Mouscron, the peloton will make its way into France using many of the same roads the mother of all cobblestone races uses—Paris-Roubaix.
The riders will face over 15 km of cobblestones, including two of the most dreaded patches in the world: Carrefour de l'Arbre and Bois de Wallers. Punctures, spectacular crashes and plenty of nerves will be the order of the day. You can't win the 2014 Tour in Roubaix, but you can definitely lose it there.
Forget about the first four stages of the 2014 Tour—Stage 5 will be truly unique. The weather conditions haven't been perfect in France in the past few days, and the riders could be facing both rain and wind on Wednesday.
That means slippery cobblestones and a dreadful day of battling uneven roads and praying to avoid mechanical issues, or worse.
Stage 5 isn't about conserving energy for the main contenders and sprinters—Wednesday will be all about survival. If it rains, as is expected, every single rider will be on the edge of his saddle, desperately trying to avoid a fatal crash on the dangerous cobblestones.
Expert Fabian Cancellara told Cycling News he expects "carnage:"
The cobbles are going to be carnage. I hope not, but we've got to be ready for it. I hope nobody crashes and loses a chance of winning the Tour de France because of what happens on the pavé. But it's racing. Roubaix is Roubaix. We all know what it’s like.
I've already been asked if I'll ask for the stage to be neutralised if it rains but this is different. I know that it’s not a nice stage for Froome, Contador, Nibali and even our GC riders. But my reply is: so why not take out the climbs to make it easier for us? That never happens, so it's only right we race on the cobbles. It’s a risk for everyone, including me, but we've got to live with it and calculate the risks involved.
The three-time winner of Paris-Roubaix will be among the favourites for the stage win, particularly given the fact it's almost 110 km shorter than the average Spring Classic.
The Swiss specialist is capable of exploding at any given time, building a 30-second lead in a single sector and keeping that lead even against a strong chasing group.
Peter Sagan is another strong contender, with a similar build to Cancellara. The man in the green will be at the front of the peloton all day long to conserve his points lead, knowing full well competitors like Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel likely won't take that risk.
The same goes for the riders concerned with the general classification. Every single one of them will want to be at the front of the pack to avoid getting involved in a crash, but once the cobblestone sectors begin, the riders from the back will start to push.
Bois de Wallers in particular is notorious for causing crashes, and the GC riders will take note. Expect the specialists to be given free rein for once, as the peloton will be more concerned with safety than the overall leaderboard.
This will open the door for Cancellara to make good on his reputation as a cobblestone-specialist, taking the stage win and the yellow jersey in the process barring mechanical failure.