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Are cobblestone stages too risky for the Tour de France?

With rain, rough roads, and multiple crashes, organizer ASO risked losing more than it gained by including Wednesday’s cobbled stage in the Tour de France.

Defending champion Chris Froome (Sky) crashed twice and abandoned before the race even reached two of the seven cobbled sectors. Other favorites went down later — including Americans Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) — and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) slipped behind on GC by two and a half minutes.

“You guys got your drama, but that takes the race down a notch when you got your top favorite [Froome] out,” van Garderen said. “In theory, it could make the race less exciting toward the end. I think ASO needs to rethink having days like this in the race.”

In past editions, the ASO already featured some of the cobble sectors that form parts of Paris-Roubaix every April, but this year there were more, and they were wet from hours of rain. In the morning, the organizer took out two sectors, but the small and lightweight GC riders still had to cover 13 kilometers of some of France’s worst roads.

“This mini-Paris-Roubaix should not be in the Tour de France,” Orica-GreenEdge’s head sport director, Matt White said. “Does anybody want to see an Alberto Contador or a Chris Froome break a bone and be out of the Tour de France? The Tour de France is for the most complete bike rider in the month of July and a part of that is not Paris-Roubaix.”

Some were happy that the Tour announced stage 5 as part of the 2014 edition last autumn. Lars Boom and Sep Vanmarcke tore the group apart, and Boom gave team Belkin a needed win as it searches for a new sponsor.

“Some would say ‘yes’ and some would say ‘no’ to a stage like this in the Tour de France,” Tinkoff team manager, Bjarne Riis explained.

“I like it, but I understand that the riders fear it. No matter, though, opinions are going to be divided. Anyway, you have your bike, your equipment and your brakes — you can decide yourself.”

Of the overall favorites, Riis’ rider Alberto Contador lost the most in yesterday stage — 2:35 to Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). It could have been worse for ASO, though. Besides Froome, it could have seen many of its favorites abandon the Tour, resulting in a completely different race through the mountains next week.

“They should think about that before putting the stage in the race,” Garmin general manger Jonathan Vaughters explained. “They put it in and we are here with the specialized bikes and specialized riders, if they wanted to maintain the gap on all GC riders, then you wouldn’t do it.”

The Tour de France organizers could have gone further and included some of Paris-Roubaix’s worst cobbled sectors like the Arenberg Forest. As it was, it gave the GC riders a sample of what the classics hard-men face every spring.

Race director, Christian Prudhomme said after the stage that a potential Tour champion must be able to conquer any type of terrain before arriving in Paris. Nibali, if he maintains his race lead, will have proven to be a well-rounded victor.

Some, however, remain unconvinced by the cobbled detour. “The Classics are the classics,” White said. “This is not the Classics.”