Cobblestone anti-climax. Fab Four fine.

Quintana. Classics hard-man?

Quintana. Classics hard-man?

What? Carnage-free cobblestones?

Ce n’est pas possible, mon vieux!

Yes, the anticipated chaos, broken bones, shattered GC hopes and catastrophe that the pavé was supposed to dish out never happened.

Skinny Chris Froome was supposed to be terrified of another crash and abandon like last year. Little Nairo Quintana was supposed to lose time, his light weight and diminutive frame unable to handle the harsh body blows. Vincenzo Nibali, who built his Tour victory on the cobbles last year, was supposed to deliver another smack down on those old French cart-tracks.

Nope, nope and nope and nothing. Each member of the Fab Four made the front group and rode to the finish in excellent shape. Froome impressed, Quintana surprised, Contador rode strongly and Van Garderen proved that it’s really the Fab Five. While Nibali again drove the stage and was the most comfortable over the stones, he made no time gains whatsoever.

It was relentlessly anti-climatic.

Only French hope (now hopeless) Thibaut Pinot saw his podium chances disappear. One could argue this was more a case of mental fragility than a mechanical and poor positioning. The man who finished third in Le Grand Shindig looked like his head wasn’t in the game as he shouted at his poor mechanic. This is the Tour de France — don’t waste time and energy arguing the price of banquets on the roadside. Pinot corrected his fear of high speed descents last year; he will also have to work on his cobblestone consciousness.

All in all the much hyped Paris-Roubaix-lite stage was unexpectedly subdued in terms of action. We kept waiting for something dramatic and race-altering to happen. Never did. While 40 riders when down in mass crashes on stage three, today was largely a safe run over the stones. Froome suddenly looked like a superb bike handler and Quintana a classics veteran, with Tom Boonen-esque skills. BMC, Sky, Astana and even Movistar had their captains well protected up front.

There was Geraint Thomas for Froome, Lars Boom for Nibali, Valverde for Quintana and BMC had three or four guys all looking after a focused Van Garderen who is finally enjoying good fortune after two Tours being smacked around by the Cycling Gods.

Yes, it was certainly ideal for Froome and Quintana that miserable conditions were not in effect. There were moments that threatened rain but we never saw more than a sprinkle. It appears that Sky’s Director of Weather Manipulation was successful in his attempts to keep rain away. Froome’s only weakness is difficulty in bad weather and while the Zeeland stage had its rain and strong crosswinds, it’s generally been far more amenable conditions for the South African this time around France.

As many have noted, it’s been a flawless four days for Froome. Cyclingnews guest writer Robert Millar summed up Froome’s performance with one word: “Wow.” No argument here. High Command at Sky must be feeling something like childish glee — although that’s not an approved Sky emotional state.

The first ten days aren’t even half over but so far so fantastic for the Fab Four. They’re most halfway to the Pyrenees and they’re all physically intact. Shocker: the cobblestone failed to rock the Tour de France.

 

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