For once, the reality outstripped the hype. In the months leading up to the Tour de France, speculation mounted as to the impact stage 5 across the cobbles might have on the general classification picture but nobody could have anticipated just how pivotal it would prove to be.
Received wisdom said that the stage wasn’t going to tell us who would win the Tour, but it might very well tell us who wouldn’t. In the end, it did both, as Chris Froome’s defence ground to an abrupt halt and Vincenzo Nibali gained what ultimately proved to be a decisive advantage in the race for overall honours.
It was little surprise, then, that Cyclingnews readers voted stage 5 of the Tour as the most memorable moment of the 2014 season – not least because the day itself contained multiple episodes that would have been worthy of the title in and of themselves.
In the three and a half hours that separated the start in Ypres from the finish in Arenberg, the lie of the land shifted completely. Froome was the favourite for overall victory as the day began, but after falling twice in the opening 35 kilometres before even reaching the cobblestones, his Tour came to a sorry end on a rain-soaked stretch of asphalt near the Carrefour de l’Arbre.
With an eye to the conditions, the commissaires took the sensible decision to eliminate two of the planned nine sectors of pavé that morning, citing safety concerns. The pleasing symmetry with the nine circles of Dante’s Inferno was no more but, in truth, the conditions could scarcely have been hellish. Small wonder that L’Équipe led the next day with a close-up of a mud splattered Nibali beneath the heading “Dantesque.”
Once on the pavé, Lieuwe Westra and Jakob Fuglsang split the Virgil duties between them, carefully guiding the maillot jaune through the early whittling down process as others floundered. As early as the second sector of cobbles, Alberto Contador was distanced by the Nibali group and he finished the day almost three minutes down, and already very much on the back foot in the grander scheme of things.
Andrew Talansky was another whose hopes damaged severely – he was unfortunate to go off the road at Bersée with 41 kilometres remaining – while Nibali himself narrowly avoided disaster when his teammate Maxim Iglinskiy fell in front of him. His season in microcosm, perhaps.
The stage honours fell to Lars Boom, who formed a redoubtable double act with Belkin teammate Sep Vanmarcke during the softening up process, before powering away from his fellow final survivors – and 2015 Astana comrades – Nibali and Fuglsang on the last stretch of cobbles to claim the win.
ASO have since decided to include pavé in the Tour for the second successive year. The debate over the merits of that decision means that stage 5 to Amiens will be among the most eagerly anticipated days of the season – and might again prove to be the most memorable.
While the dramatic day on the cobbles was a worthy winner of the Moment of the Year category and picked up over a quarter of the votes, the poll was a close-run thing. Alberto Contador’s dramatic comeback victory at the Vuelta a España just weeks after he had fractured his tibia at the Tour attracted almost 20 per cent of the votes, while Jens Voigt’s popularity with fans was reflected by the almost 16 per cent picked up by his Hour Record.
|1||An epic day of racing on stage 5 of the Tour de France on the cobbles||25.45%|
|2||Alberto Contador comes back from a fractured leg to win the Vuelta a Espana||19.42%|
|3||Jens Voigt breaks the Hour Record||15.86%|
|4||Bradley Wiggins ends Tony Martin’s dominance in the time trial at the World Championships||8.17%|
|5||Andrew Talansky racing away to the win at the Dauphine||8.06%|
|6||A women’s peloton racing on the Champs-Elysees for La Course||6.99%|
|7||The French renaissance at the Tour de France||5.21%|
|8||Dan Martin crashing out of Liege-Bastogne-Liege on the final corner||4.82%|
|9||Nairo Quintana “attacks” on the descent of the Stelvio||3.93%|
|10||Andy Schleck retiring from professional cycling||2.10%|