It's just over a month until the start of the 2014 Tour de France and teams are busily putting their final touches to their preparation. While Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali train at altitude Team Sky's Chris Froome and Omega Pharma QuickStep's Mark Cavendish have camped out in North Europe as they ride reconnaissance over the cobbles that will feature in this year's Tour.
There are nine sectors of cobbles, all of which feature in Paris-Roubaix, that have been crambed into stage 5 of this year's Tour and the stage could be as crucial as any of the mountain stages in this year's race.
Both Team Sky and Omega Pharma QuickStep enjoyed fine weather as they trained. Omega took nine riders on recon, including Paris-Roubaix winner Niki Terptra, Cavendish and their GC hope for the Tour, Michal Kwiatkowski.
"I think Kwiatkowski is, out of the GC contenders, one of the most capable of riding on the cobbles," Rolf Aldag said on the team's website.
"He did it last year with a spectacular Tour of Flanders, and races like E3 Harelbeke, and so on. I think he's used to it, so it won't be shocking. It's more about the tactical situation for him at the Tour de France rather than getting used to the feel."
"The thing during the Tour is you have different interests. You have a limited number of riders who go for the stage wins, because they still have captains for the GC they have to protect. So, it's going to be a slightly different race that isn't as clear as a Paris-Roubaix where you have a Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara, or Sep Vanmarcke and all the teams will support their guys to clearly win that one-day race. At the Tour it's a little more complicated. You may see teams that maybe will chase, not because they want a stage win, but maybe in that group there may be a GC contender who will try to get away before the cobbles."
The last time the Tour de France included cobbles of such magnitude was in 2010, when Thor Hushovd won an action-packed stage that saw Frank Shleck crash out and Lance Armstrong lose time. Second on that day was Geraint Thomas and the Sky rider was back again today, leading Richie Porte and Chris Froome through the nine sectors.