In the spring, the ancient cobblestone roads in the farmlands of northern France are unearthed from their winter cover, berms of mud heaved to each side of the verge to ready the famed pavé for the arrival of the riders of Paris-Roubaix.
From time to time, they reappear in July – this time baked from the summer sun, the mud turned to dust, the plowed-under fields now verdant with life – as a challenge for the contenders in the Tour de France.
The gladiators of the spring Classics rose to the ocassion, with John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) reprising his 2015 role as hoister of the cobblestone trophy, vanquishing the 2017 Roubaix champion Greg Van Avermaet who – resplendent in the maillot jaune as race leader – held back his disappointment. The German's storybook comeback was apt as not only his first Tour stage win, but his first major victory since his horror crash in 2016.
The cobbles, turned slick by silt as fine as baby powder, claimed a few victims – most notably Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), and even defending Tour champion Chris Froome (Team Sky) – but the worst crashes happened as they usually do: at a moment of inattention or due to some aggressive fighting for position.
Richie Porte (BMC Racing) was the first to abandon, suffering a broken collarbone in a tangle with Jens Keukeleire (Lotto Soudal) and Michael Valgren (Astana). Mikel Landa (Movistar) hit a drain when drinking from his bidet on the most innocuous of roads, and was forced to chase for the better part of 20km.
All in all, it was a hectic, painful, day before the first rest day, but in the end not much changed for the overall classification. Van Avermaet extended his lead over Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) to 43 seconds, while Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac) was the biggest loser of the day, giving up 1:55 after being unable to rejoin following a crash.
Click or swipe through the gallery to view the chaos of the cobbles.