As Sunday's 156 kilometre stage 9 looms, so do the cobbles. Here's what a few of the team directors are saying ahead of the momentous day.
By
Cycling Central

Source:
Reuters, The Cycling Podcast
2 DAYS AGO 

22 kilometres, 15 secteurs over 101 kilometres. 

Quite a number given recent Tours de France. In 2014, the peloton trekked over nine sections, in 2015, just seven sections littered a stage of 223 kilometres. 

The first cobbles of the 2018 Tour pavé come after 47 kilometres and it is this secteur that already seems to haunt Mitchelton-Scott director Matthew White.

"It's one, one and a half kilometres of dead straight road downhill at three to four per cent," he told The Cycling Podcast on Thursday.

"And three lanes into one car width. 172 riders are not going through that corner."

White is unequivocal: cobbles have a place on the pro racing calendar but only in March/April, not the Tour.  And he has sound reasoning. 

"(In the Tour peloton) there's 15 classics specialists. Another 30-40 guys are competent. The rest are surviving or getting in the way or a combination of the two.  

"It's been nervous enough (this) first week, enough crashes. And then you throw that into the first period of the race and it's a recipe for disaster.

"You talk to some guys throughout the year and they turn into different beasts once they pin a Tour number on and that's why we're having so many crashes."

"It is what it is and we have to adapt to it and we brought a team to help support Adam as best we can with some great classics riders in the team."

These riders include Australian classics specialists Luke Durbridge and 2016 Paris-Roubaix champion Mathew Hayman who helped Yates recon the stage 9 cobbles, three times earlier this year. 

Despite this supportive pedigree and Yates' competency developed through racing in northern France and Belgium early in his career, White says he is still unsold on what strategy to go with on the day. Sit back and let the crashes happen in front of them and possibly lose time getting caught behind, or take their chances in the "washing machine" and risk their leader crashing out of the race?

At UAE Emirates, Dan Martin's director Philippe Mauduit told Reuters composure is the name of the game on Sunday. 

"I told my riders the first day (of the Tour). When there were crashes, nobody was communicating. Now it’s working well, when there’s a crash, everyone keeps us posted (though radio communication) so we can assist them,” Mauduit said. “And composure will be crucial on Sunday.”

“We know that at some moments, we (the team cars) will be three to four minutes behind a group of riders because of road blocks and sometimes the road will be too narrow for us to go past a small bunch and reach our rider,” said Mauduit. "Sometimes you get your rider back 15km further down the road." To avoid such scenarios, riders need to be able to act without the support of their sports directors.

"Since the season started I have been trying to teach my riders to be autonomous,” said Mauduit, who in his 15-year career as a sports director has guided multiple grand tour winners Alberto Contador and Nibali.

"The goal is that they are able to make the right decisions without assistance. We plan everything, they have all the information to do well."

"One of the reasons riders think it's too much or too difficult is that most of them are not used to it. If the cobbles are in the Tour every year, it's less of a big thing. They're used to it."

But Martin will not be on his own on Sunday.

“The whole team, with the exception of Alexander Kristoff and Marco Marcato who will go for the stage win, the whole team will be around Dan to protect him,” said Mauduit.

“We checked the stage last Wednesday before the start of the race but it is so specific. Artists like (Vincenzo) Nibali, who can do everything on a bike, it’s not a problem for them.

"Other riders it’s more complicated even if you work on it. You have it or you don’t have it.”

Team Sky's tech for the Tour cobbles
One cobbled stage at the Tour de France adds plenty of excitement for spectators, it also creates a large dose of work for the mechanics. We spoke with a mechanic for Team Sky, to find out what special requirements there are for stage 9.

Team Sky director Servais Knaven, himself a former Paris-Roubaix champion, is having none of this "you have it or you don't" cobbles mythology.

"It's not like rocket science riding the cobbles," he told The Cycling Podcast. "(With) experience and confidence, anyone can do it."

"One of the reasons riders think it's too much or too difficult is that most of them are not used to it. If the cobbles are in the Tour every year, it's less of a big thing. They're used to it."

His charge, four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome missed out on riding the cobbles during the 2014 Tour after crashing out of the stage before hitting the rough stuff.

The gangly Tour champion was not expected to do well on the pavé the following year but he not only survived, he countered moves by Nibali and went on to win the whole grand boucle.

Teammate and former classics specialist Geraint Thomas will also be looking forward to Sunday, no doubt eyeing the yellow jersey he is only six seconds away from wearing. The Welshman is performing strongly in the first phase of the Tour, sitting over a minute ahead of Froome, prompting some to ask if he is a co-leader rather than a plan B. On stage 9, Sky will have just over 40 people (including friends and family) standing out on the road armed with bottles and wheels. 

Only time will tell how everything will turn out in Sunday's wash.