The Tour de France: summer, sunshine, sunflowers, avenues of poplar trees and mountains. Paris-Roubaix: springtime, rain, mud, pavé and burly Classics men. Different though they may be, these two worlds are not mutually exclusive.
The two most recent winners of Paris-Roubaix have both already made their mark on the 2018 Tour de France, and when this year’s race heads to Roubaix on stage nine, it will -to much excitement of fans and anxiety of pocket sized climbers- make a foray onto the type of roads that characterise the one-day race.
This does happen every now and then on the Tour. In 2015, Tony Martin won a stage that started in the territory of the Ardennes Classics but finished in Paris-Roubaix country, taking in seven sectors of pavé along the way.
A year earlier, a wet stage across the cobbles to Arenberg had been more decisive, spelling the end of the race for defending overall champion Chris Froome and allowing his eventual successor, Vincenzo Nibali, to showcase a talent for the pavé in third place behind stage winner Lars Boom.
2010’s visit to the same stage finish was a dustbowl but no less dramatic. Big victim then was Frank Schleck who crashed as the bunch bottlenecked at the entrance to the Sars-et-Rosières sector. His brother Andy -who would eventually be awarded the Tour following the disqualification of Alberto Contador- was meanwhile towed off into the front group under the tutelage of team mate and Classics king Fabian Cancellara.
Long gone are the days when Spanish lightweights would lose minutes on making their first ever acquaintance with cobbles at the Tour. Either a pre-Tour recce or full competition practise at the Classics is de riguer for inexperienced GC riders.
Cobbles don’t just appear when the Tour visits the Classics country of northern France and Beneluxe either. Back in the day, far more roads around France were surfaced with cobbles – and even today the Tour still routinely passes over short remnants of these with little fuss.
And, while the pavé of the far north it certainly is not, the annual finale on the Champs Elysees takes place over cobbles too.