By Anthony Tan
Like its Belgian half-brother, the Ronde van Vlaanderen, racing does not commence for real until almost 100 kilometres of racing has been covered. Beginning at Compiègne's Place du Palais, approximately 80 kilometres north of the nation's capital, the official start time is 1100 hours Sunday morning, although the Départ fictif is 10 minutes beforehand.
Heading direction nor'-nor'-east, the first of 27 cobbled secteurs comes after 98 kilometres at Troisvilles à Inchy, a 2,200 metre-long stretch of pavé to loosen up the legs... and pretty much everything else on the bike and body! Inspecting each of the secteurs last Monday, race director Jean-François Pescheux rated each based on three criteria: length, state of repair (or in some cases, disrepair) and its position in the race (see classification below). Troisvilles was awarded 3 out of 5 stars, or medium difficulty.
Then in descending order, the remaining 26 secteurs of pavé follow in quick succession with little respite. As mentioned in the preview, the first key secteur comes almost 66 kilometres later as the riders enter secteur 17, or La Forêt d'Arenberg at km 163,5, the 2,400 metre stretch not the longest but awarded 5 out of 5 - the severest of all.
The next key secteur arrives after 210,5 kilometres. 3000 metres in length, Mons-en-Pévèle is the second longest, and coupled with its position in the race, roughly 50 kilometres from the Roubaix velodrome, Monsieur Pescheux has also given it the five-star treatment.
If the race has not taken a definitive shape after Mons-en-Pévèle, it will by the time the riders exit Le Carrefour de l'Arbre, the fourth last secteur and the only other to receive a five-star rating. When one reaches Le Carrefour de l'Arbre, it is the culmination of 242 kilometres' racing and a trio of four-star pavé secteurs only 10 kilometres before it. Numbness, frailty and exhaustion are likely outcomes.
Click here to read the full route details.