Cobblestone paths can be dangerous, fear Tour riders

Several Tour de France riders fear sections of the third stage from Wanze to Arenberg-Porte du Hainaut could degenerate into a freak show.

Many riders admit they will be racing against the cobbles and not each other in a dangerous fight to the finish.
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ROTTERDAM // Several Tour de France riders fear that the 213km third stage from Wanze to Arenberg-Porte du Hainaut on Tuesday, a journey featuring 13.2 km of cobblestone sections, could degenerate into a freak show. "The Tour de France is already a spectacle, do we need to add this? It can be dangerous," Jens Voigt, a German riding in his 13th Tour, said shortly after returning from a training ride around Rotterdam.

Other riders and directors on the three-week, 3,642km race agreed the cobblestones could lead to chaos and prematurely end hopes of at least one of the favourites. "Someone will lose the race that day, I just don't know who it's going to be. It could be Lance [Armstrong], could be [Alberto] Contador, could be [Andy] Schleck," said Jonathan Vaughters, the Garmin Transitions manager. Contador, the two-time champion and overwhelming favourite, first rode on cobbles this season.

"Going.To.Be.Carnage," Lance Armstrong, the seven-time champion, wrote on his Twitter feed. "There are 10 or 12 genuine contenders," Matt White, the Garmin Transitions sports director, said. "I reckon on Tuesday you might be able to cut that list down to four guys, and I'm being optimistic. You're not racing against Contador that day. It's the cobbles. It will be a big free-for-all. There's 20 different scenarios that can happen that day and you've got to be able to react to them."

The last kilometres leading to the cobbled sections of the stage are likely to be ridden at full speed as riders will want to secure a place near the front of the peloton to avoid crashes. "The approach to the first section of cobbles, it will be full speed, I imagine there will be a crash, there will be a bottleneck," Vaughters said. "The key is positioning going into that first section and if you're positioned well and you've missed the massive pile-up."

* Reuters