One notable stage of the 2018 Tour de France is both a Queen and a course from hell
The 1983 song “Tour de France” by pioneering techno pop group Kraftwerk (German for “power station”) is a great tune featuring breaths mixed into a drum machine beat, accompanied by beautiful synthesizer melodies and simple vocals.
The first line of the lyrics goes like this:
“L’enfer du Nord Paris-Roubaix”
(meaning “Paris-Roubaix, the Hell of the North”). The Paris-Roubaix is a more formal, classic race than the Tour, and an older one, going back to 1896.
That same course was used on the first day of the inaugural Tour de France, but why did this race, called the Queen of the Classics, become hell?
It’s because of the paths paved with 14-centimeter stones.
The cobblestones have been eroded by wind and rain over the years, and of course by bicycles. In some places they are softer and more slippery, while in others they protrude more sharply and puncture tires. Wheels can also get stuck in the gaps between stones. The streets are narrow and crowded with spectators, closing off any path of escape.
A single mistake can cause a catastrophic wreck ensnarling other riders. Support cars—and motorcycles—cannot reach these sections. Riders’ hands and legs go numb trying to keep their bicycles under control. Even if they are blessed with sunny weather, torrential dust may cloud their vision.
And when it rains, the mud that swells up covers the racers’ bodies, even their faces, while mechanical problems may occur, such as brakes functioning poorly and gears clogged with mud. It’s a day they call “A Sunday in hell.”
And of course, the trophy awarded to the winner comes in the form of one of those lovely cobblestones!
2018 Tour de France, Stage 9: Hell, but followed by an off-day
This cobblestone-lined route comes on Sunday, July 15, the day before the first rest day.The course is a relatively short 154 km, and a day off comes afterward, so we can expect an all-out competition.
But although the announced course looks short distance-wise,
there are 15 sections with cobblestones, plus several other challenging areas. Something incredible is bound to happen.
The Paris-Roubaix will be on Sunday, April 8, 2018.
Stage 9 of the Tour de France is on July 15.
Philippe Bouvet (2007) “Paris-Roubaix: A Journey Through Hell
L’Equipe (2005) “The Official Tour De France: 1903–2004”
Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd