Dylan van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers) on his way to victory at Paris-Roubaix 2022.

Hors Course stage 5: Out of the comfort zone and onto the Paris-Roubaix cobbles

It's 'Paris-Roubaix' day! As the Tour de France peloton takes on stage 5, José Been recounts her own cobbled experience.

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As heard on the Tour Daily podcast, José Been is taking us off the race route for some local historical and cultural context for each stage, from Denmark all the way to Paris.

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! It’s time for cobbles today at the Tour de France. The fifth stage brings us from Lille to Porte de Hainaut Arenberg, or in short: Paris-Roubaix cobbles! The peloton does not ride the famous five-star sectors of Mons-en-Pévèle, Carrefour de l’Arbre or Trouée d’Arenberg, but the finish is where the Paris-Roubaix peloton normally enters that sector, near the museum. Today’s course does include a total of 19.4 kilometres of pavé, though, including the iconic Pont Gibus. 

I was never too enthusiastic about cobbles, like some of the general classification riders will be today. This is the kind of stage that won’t win the Tour de France overall but can be decisive in losing it. Remember how Chris Froome crashed out of the Tour de France on the wet roads of the cobbled stage in 2014 before he even hit one sector? These old farmers’ roads are not for everyone. They weren’t for me either. Until that changed earlier this year

My athletic career always involved swimming which is a gravity-free sport where fractures are virtually non-existent. Ever heard about a professional swimmer with a broken collarbone? No. Indeed. When I got my first road bike in 2013 it was immediately clear I would only do smooth asphalt. No off-road, no mud, gravel or, heaven forbid, cobbles. 

My Eurosport colleague Magnus Bäckstedt who won Paris-Roubaix convinced me to do cobbles. It would benefit my commentary and insight, he said. The most important advice he gave me was to stay upright, hold your handlebars, and stay in the middle. There was no advice on how to be less scared but maybe I shouldn’t have asked that of someone who’s actually won Paris-Roubaix. 

The first sector I did was a beginner’s one: reasonably good cobbles and no turns. The peloton also rides this Bousignies à Millionfosse sector in stage 5. It’s the tenth of the eleven sectors in total. 

The worst sector of my day on the cobbles last March is also included in today’s stage. On this 2.4-kilometre stretch of disaster from Tilloy to Sars et Rosières there are deep holes, grass, moss, dogs, and tractors to manoeuvre around. Hopefully the dogs and tractors are kept indoors for the Tour de France peloton. There is not one smooth line to be found and there are also a handful of turns. 

Mathieu van der Poel demonstrate how to handle a dusty corner. The Alpecin-Deceuninck rider has made it known that stage 5 is a major target after a relatively quiet start to his second Tour de France.

Going straight ahead on Roubaix cobbles is OK, turning corners is not. “In corners your wheels are actually not attached to the ground for more than half of the time,” Magnus explained reassuringly. Great information. Thanks Magnus.

Riding the cobbles is so much harder than you can ever imagine. I felt more exhausted after this short 60-kilometre loop than riding 100 km and 1,600 meters of elevation around the Mont Ventoux. The time gaps in Paris-Roubaix are comparable to a big mountain stage. That now makes a lot more sense to me.

I vowed I would never do cobbles again because it hurts. Big time. But today, at the Tour de France, I brought my bike and did some cobbles again. It’s that weird feeling that you just want to do things that are far out of your comfort zone again because they simply make you feel proud.

Pride is probably not a sentiment the riders will have today because this is after all their job. They are not the fearful amateur I am. I do however feel there will be a lot of relief in many team buses when the stage is over. The same relief I felt to still be in one piece after the Hell of the North.

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