Ever since the 2002 Paris-Roubaix we've yearned for a repeat of mud, yet alas, we're still waiting.
Unlike March and April (the two driest months of the year in the region), July, August and October are historically the wettest - which explains why we saw what we did on July 9 last year...
Vincenzo Nibali effectively won the Tour with a masterclass display on the mud-soaked pavé, and defending champion Chris Froome faltered before he even got to the first of seven secteurs pavé (nine were scheduled, but so inclement was the weather, two secteurs were abandoned), exiting stage left in the Team Sky Jag. Third place and 19 seconds behind stage winner Lars Boom, by day's end, lo squalo di Messina sat 1'54 ahead of newly-appointed Sky leader Richie Porte and two-minutes-plus in front of GC contenders Andrew Talansky, Tejay van Garderen, Alejandro Valverde and Tour favorite Alberto Contador, who, five days later, would crash out of the race en route to La Planche des Belles Filles.
Given what transpired last July, some may find it surprising to see a return to the cobblestones so soon. Yet Tour director Christian Prudhomme, even since he took the helm in 2007, has always maintained the final wearer of the maillot jaune in Paris must not be a climber or time trialist or puncheur or baroudeur, but a combination of all the aforementioned: un coureur complet.
So, in homage to the arguably the greatest Classic of all, Prudy et al. have brought back another seven secteurs - though not the same ones; this year's are said to be tougher - making for 13.3 kilometres of pavé. The first secteur comes after 101km and is 1,800 metres long; the last 2,300 metres and just 12 kilometres from the finish in Cambrai.
In his April 10 blog, ‘The Exceptional Paris-Roubaix', The Inner Ring wrote:
"The Tour de France's use of these roads is also a big celebration of Paris-Roubaix. Too often Le Tour obscures the rest of the sport, it is the reference point by which so many other races are judged.
"Yet it ‘borrows' the roads of Paris-Roubaix. We don't talk about the Tour ‘borrowing' the roads of the Critérium du Dauphiné or the Route du Sud; in fact the Tour makes Alpe d'Huez, Mont Ventoux or the Col du Tourmalet famous.
"For once, the Tour de France borrows its reference points from another race."
Christian Prudhomme, Directeur du Tour de France, says:
"The series of references to the great classics of cycling continues with a sequence of cobbled portions of Paris-Roubaix including six on a distance of around 30 kilometres. Seven sectors and just over 13 kilometres of trembling will force all the leaders and their team-mates to be extra cautious."
Matt White, Orica-GreenEDGE head sports director, says:
"Most of the carnage last year was done even before we got onto the pavé. The rain, the nerves, and the crashes... the crashes that put Froome out were just on normal roads! Again, it will be a very, very nervous day; the weather conditions will largely determine how nervous and dangerous it's going to be.
"The GC guys will have all put a lot of effort into it - it's just that some guys don't function as well as others on pavé, that's all. And some teams aren't as good as others on pavé. Those big teams will be doing their best to look after their leaders, but... it's just going to be another very, very nervous day, that's for sure.
"Other than the Tour, I've never seen Nibali up that part of the world; maybe he was as an Under-23, but he smashed it last year. He's a good bike rider - he can handle his bike. Guys like (Joaquim) Rodríguez and Froome... I know Froome did recon after Liège, but I don't know what Rodríguez has done, recon-wise.
"But some guys, if they think about it too much, they probably build up too much nerves. And some guys, they put a lot of faith in their team-mates that day.
"For guys like Rodríguez and (Nairo) Quintana, yeah, it's probably nice for him to see the pavé in Waregem and those smaller races up there in Belgium, but at the end of the day, is it going to make it any easier for him? I think it's his team-mates that will be the key on those sorts of days."