Tour de France 2014: Yorkshire’s hills and dales will test the best

Riders are in for the hardest first week in nearly 40 years

If today’s stage was a relatively straightforward curtain-raiser for the Tour de France peloton, what awaits them is anything but. In fact, the first week of this year’s race has been described by Tour director Christian Prudhomme as “the hardest in nearly 40 years”.

Sunday’s 201-kilometre trek through the Yorkshire hills and dales is certainly the hardest day of climbing so early in the Tour since stage two ventured into the Pyrenees in 1977. This time there are no monster Pyrenean cols to contend with; but 3,000 metres of vertical climbing and nine classified climbs in the Yorkshire Dales mean, nonetheless, that stage two is a day where any weaknesses in the general-classification contenders will be exposed.

Although Holme Moss, two thirds of the way through the stage, is one of British cycling’s most-emblematic climbs, the much-less famous Côte de Jenkin Road – as the short ascent in Sheffield has been rechristened by the French organisers – may do the most damage. Only 800 metres long, its 33 per cent gradients are the steepest segment of any climb in this Tour – and would serve as a perfect springboard for late attacks to the finish, just five kilometres further on. Simon Yates is the only English rider in this Tour and a first-year pro, but curiously enough, the 21-year-old from Bury, near Manchester, will be one of only a handful of professionals present who have previously ridden over the Yorkshire climbs.

“I know them really well,” the Orica GreenEdge rider said. “They’re all my local training roads, and it’s really hard terrain. There won’t be half as many guys at the finish as in a normal stage. It’ll be a very tricky stage throughout,” – particularly if, as is forecast for this afternoon in Sheffield, it rains.

In fact, the stage is so difficult, he says, it will be riders with a flair for climbing – like, Yates hopes, his leader, Simon Gerrans – who could well be in the lead on Sunday night. Other favourites with a chance of success include Spain’s Alejandro Valverde.

In contrast, Monday’s stage into London is arguably the most straightforward of the entire Tour, with a flat run down from Cambridge and through the East End likely to culminate with a bunch sprint on The Mall. But by far the most-daunting stage of the entire Tour – in terms of unpredictability and danger – comes as soon as Wednesday’s stage five.

Running from Ypres to Arenberg, stage five’s last 60 kilometres feature nine cobbled sections of rough farm track, known as pavé. Traditionally they only form part of the annual Paris-Roubaix Classic, a race nicknamed the Hell of the North given the way these rough backroads tend to wreak havoc in the peloton with punctures, mechanical incidents and crashes. In such circumstances, bike-handling skills – not, it should be said, Chris Froome’s forte – become crucial. As Alberto Contador put it: “It will be a battle for survival.”

Ireland’s Sean Kelly, who won  the Paris-Roubaix Classic three times in the 1980s, agrees.

“If the weather is rough, it’s going to be a horrible nightmare for a lot of the riders,” he told The Independent on Sunday. “It’ll be very unpredictable and in the early part of the race, everyone’s feeling good so there’ll be lots of chances for crashes. Froome says he’s ridden over them in training, but compared to racing, it’s like night and day.”

The mayhem caused the last time the Tour tackled the Roubaix cobbles, in 2010, saw favourites like Lance Armstrong and Contador lose a minute to the main pack. Other  general-classification contenders like Luxemberg’s Frank Schleck were far less fortunate, crashing on a dangerous section of pavé and breaking his collarbone. It is a fate that could await any of the top names next Wednesday, particularly as rather than “just” the seven sections of pavé cobbles there were in 2010 there are now nine.

These two stages alone would make for a brutally difficult start to this year’s Tour. But instead the peloton will barely have time to recover before the Tour makes a three-day incursion into the Vosges mountain range, starting on Saturday.

Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
All the major parties are under pressure from sceptical voters to spell out their tax and spending plans
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and artistic director Matthew Warchus at the Old Vic party to honour Spacey
theatreStar's successor at Old Vic theatre admits he's 'allergic to hype'
Life and Style
life + healthVirginia Ironside's dilemma, during Depression Awareness Week
Arts and Entertainment
The median income for professional writers is just £10,432, less than the minimum wage
booksSurvey reveals authors' earnings
Life and Style
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders