Cobbles in the Tour de France: a recent history of the blockbuster stages

A look back at the winners, losers and dramas from modern Tour stages over the pavé.

Photo: Getty Images

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Recent history teaches us that when the cobbles feature in the Tour de France, there is high drama: crashes, punctures, injuries, time won and lost.

It should be no different for stage five of the 2022 race between Lille and Arenberg Porte du Hainaut, which includes eleven sectors.

Cobblestones in the Tour de France offer a stirring spectacle and a fresh, frenetic dynamic. The regular stars of Paris-Roubaix are turned into superdomestiques, shepherding their GC captains in a hectic race of attrition.

Groups split and coalesce, team-mates give up bikes or wheels for their unfortunate leaders. The fans love it, the dust-covered riders are just relieved to put the pavé behind them.

Also read: 

Since returning to the race route in 2004 after a 15-year hiatus, the pavé of northern France has cropped up every few years. It is a major first-week pitfall: as the old saying goes, you probably can’t win the Tour here, but you can definitely lose it.

2018: A Roubaix repeat for Degenkolb

John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) wins his first Tour de France stage on the cobbles in 2018 (Photo: Getty Images)

Fifteen sectors totaling 22 kilometers of cobblestones wore down a wary bunch. Richie Porte crashed out in tears early on, Rigoberto Urán lost valuable time and Romain Bardet suffered three punctures.

The classic specialists fought it out in front, as John Degenkolb outsprinted yellow jersey Greg van Avermaet and Yves Lampaert. It was fitting for a Paris-Roubaix winner to take an emotional victory there again.

2015 – Martin leaves them smarting

Germany’s Tony Martin celebrates as he crosses the finish line at the end of the 223.5 km fourth stage of the 102nd edition of the Tour de France (Photo: Getty Images)

With six sectors included in the last hour of racing to Cambrai, this resembled a mini Paris-Roubaix on a stage that, at 223.5km, was already the longest in the race.

Vincenzo Nibali and his Astana teammates forced the pace and eventual race winner Chris Froome tried to bring a group away with a move on the tarmac in the finale. Attack can be the best form of defense for contenders who aren’t in their element.

Breaking away with three kilometers to go, a dusty-faced Tony Martin won the stage and donned the yellow jersey. It was an opportunist’s victory: given that essentially only GC favorites and sprinters remained in the bunch, the chase behind wasn’t sufficiently concerted or strong.

The day’s big loser was French hope Thibaut Pinot. Stopping twice with a puncture and mechanical problems, he lost almost three and a half minutes to his fellow contenders.

2014: The Italian job

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) sets the pace on a difficult day of the 2014 Tour de France (Photo: Getty Images)

For those who say you can’t win the Tour early on the cobbles, just take a look at what Vincenzo Nibali did. His march to glory that year owed a large part to his audacity in northern France.

Breaking away with teammate Jakob Fuglsang, the yellow jersey looked as comfy as a dyed-in-the-wool classics veteran on the treacherous roads.

While Lars Boom slipped up the road for solo victory ahead of them, Nibali’s closest GC challengers finished 2:23 down. Defending champion Chris Froome didn’t make it as far as Arenberg, abandoning after two crashes.

The rainy conditions made it resemble a grim spring’s day of racing. Not everyone was a fan of including these wet roads and the unpredictability they bring. “In my opinion, this does not have a place in a Grand Tour,” Fabian Cancellara said afterward.

No other modern sortie over the stones has been so decisive for the Tour’s final result – or quite so photogenic.

2010: One Schleck falls, the other flies

Luxembourg's Frank Schleck receives medical assistance from Tour de France doctor Gerard Porte after he crashed in the first France's cobblestones sector at the end of the 213 km and third stage of the 2010 Tour de France cycling race run between Wanze and Arenberg, northern France, on July 6, 2010 in Arenberg. AFP PHOTO / JOEL SAGET (Photo credit should read JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images)
Luxembourg’s Frank Schleck receives medical assistance from Tour de France doctor Gerard Porte after he crashed in the first France’s cobblestones sector at the end of the 213 km and third stage of the 2010 Tour de France (Photo: Getty Images)

A defining image of the 2010 edition’s first week came on the Sars-et-Rosières sector. As the peloton entered at speed, Fränk Schleck fell hard at the front of the race and abandoned with a broken collarbone.

In stark contrast, his younger brother Andy excelled, guided ably by Saxo Bank teammate Fabian Cancellara.

On the road to Arenberg-Porte du Hainaut, they were part of a crack group that put 53 seconds into the rest, alongside Thor Hushovd, Geraint Thomas, world champion Cadel Evans and Ryder Hesjedal.

It was chaos behind, with the bunch shattering into several groups. Bradley Wiggins and Aleksandr Vinokourov were the challengers in the next group while Alberto Contador chased hard, finishing alone, 1:13 down.

He’d win the Tour after a memorable duel with Schleck, but the Luxembourger ended up belatedly with the yellow jersey after Contador’s clenbuterol positive.

2004 – Chips are down for Mayo

Hold the Mayo: Spaniard Iban Mayo losing time on the Tour de France cobbles in 2004.

Only two sectors featured on stage 3 between Waterloo and Wasquehal, but it was enough to jangle nerves and ensure an all-out fight for position. Sixty-five kilometers out, just before the first stones, Iban Mayo saw his GC hopes bite the dust, never regaining the peloton after a fall.

“My Tour has been finished by bad luck,” he lamented afterwards. Denis Menchov and Christophe Moreau also finished in his group, almost four minutes back.

In front, Jean-Patrick Nazon outsprinted Erik Zabel for victory. U.S. Postal and Lance Armstrong were well positioned on the rough roads, setting the American up for what would be a sixth consecutive victory.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.