It's summer, it's hot, it's the Tour! The 2014 Tour de France is already three days old, and as the peloton leaves the green hills of Yorkshire and the historic city of London, it's back to the home country for the remainder on Tuesday. The shop has been abuzz with Tour Fever, and it's been a blast to have the race streaming live, and on replay, all day long.
The next big stage comes Wednesday, and it's going to be one for the ages. After three straight days of flat sprint stages, it's not the elevation that will tear the race to pieces, but nine secteurs of cobblestones, all which have featured for over 100 years in the Paris-Roubaix.
Race organizers decided to included the cobbles from "The Hell of the North" this year to pay homage to the region's history as a part of the First World War. The stage leaves from Ypres, which saw nearly four straight years of bloody fighting from 1914 through the winter of 1918, before the Armistice was signed. The route covers mile after mile of small villages still shaped by that 100 year old conflict, as well as some obvious signs of its successor just over a decade later.
The region is also known for its coal mines, which dot the area and remain a major economic influence in the area. Many of the cobbles date back well over the 100 years of the race, where they served as much-needed infrastructure for the region. Some of the roads even date back to the days of Napoleon, who commissioned many works to improve roads, in no small part to move his army more quickly through the French countryside. And yes, many of those roads are lined with trees, so that his troops could march in the shade.
The modern day Tour will hit the cobbles with two races at play. The general classification men will be simply looking to make it through unscathed, ushered along by teammates with more experience on the rough and tumble roads of Northern France. Those Classics men without teammates with GC ambitions will have carte blanche on the day, and will look for a rare chance to take victory on a parcours that makes it into the Tour infrequently. The last time the race hit the cobbles was 2010, and it was nearly ten years before that.
In Traverse City, we're starting our Speed of Light Tour Competition Thursday, with Stage One leaving the shop at 6.30pm, or 6.45 from the Vasa Parking Lot.