Tour de France 2022, stage five
Start location: Lille Métropole
Finish location: Arenberg Porte du Hainaut
Start time: 12.35 BST
Finish time (approx): 16.20 BST
Eighteen years have passed since the very last lump of coal was mined from France. An industry that once employed 300,000 people and excavated 60 million tonnes of dusty black carbon, mainly in the north and east of the country, gradually dwindled to nothing, under the twin pressures of cheap imports and the environmental impact of burning it. The coal industry had been an engine of social and industrial revolution, but couldn’t survive beyond the turn of the 21st century.
The landscape of the Nord département, largely flat, with gentle undulations and large expanses of forest between the urban conurbations of Lille, Roubaix and Valenciennes, still bears the marks of its mining history, with rusting pitheads standing like gravestones to an entire industry and spoil heaps quietly rewilding as the local tourist authorities repurpose them as beauty spots. This is a complex region. Nord is France’s most populous département, and one still in transition from its industrial past. The coal mines and the textile factories of Lille have closed, and while money is flooding into Lille, with its Eurostar station, the European City of Culture designation in 2004 and its university (the third largest in France), the rest of the region still struggles to adjust to the modern age.
The tension between past and present in Nord might find expression in the fifth stage of the 2022 Tour de France, which starts in Lille and finishes in the mining town of Arenberg, in the shadow of the town’s 60-metre tall pithead. The riders will be more scientifically well trained and prepared than they have ever been before; their equipment much improved even on the bikes of 10 years ago. They will take advantage of technology - race radios, weather apps, mapping apps - that has made them better informed than ever and would have been unimaginable to the peloton of the early Tour de France. And yet the stage will be a throwback to a past era of cycling.
While the département strives to modernise and to move on from its industrial past, a small number of its ancient roads are deliberately preserved in their original cobbled states, precisely to allow modern cycling to cosplay as its former self. In Paris-Roubaix, this is an annual event; for the Tour de France, it’s more of an occasional thing. The last visit by the Tour to the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix was in 2018.
This is the stage that the GC riders most fear. The chaos and stress of racing on cobbled roads almost guarantees that not all contenders will be contenders by the day’s end. In 2014, the cobbles stage, run off in apocalyptic rain, defined the entire race; a year later there was more of a GC stalemate, though not before Thibaut Pinot fell out of contention. The 2022 iteration will see 11 sectors; the two toughest are the four-star Wandingnies-Hamage sector with 30km to go and Tilloy-les-Marchiennes to Sars-et-Rosières with 20km to go.
In most ways, this region is trying to escape from its past. For this one day, it will embrace it.
Tour de France 2022 stage five map and profile
Tour de France 2022 stage five profile
While stage five is short, the intensity will make it one of the most difficult of the Tour de France. Classics specialists will be the only ones excited about the prospect of tackling 11 sectors of bone-jarring cobblestones in around 75km, while the GC contenders and their teams will be apprehensive of a stage that can't win them the Tour but can certainly see them lose it.
The cobbled sectors of stage five of the 2022 Tour de France
Aside from the first intermediate sprint the opening 79km are only difficult in the fight for positioning in the peloton ahead of sector 11. The sectors get harder towards the end, by which time we'll have an idea who is in line for the stage win and who on GC may be losing some time.
Tour de France 2022 stage five predictions and contenders
Current yellow jersey and winner of stage four Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) would be an obvious pick on this cobbles stage, particularly having been the runner-up in Paris-Roubaix in April. But his team's GC ambitions may see his freedom to attack curtailed and we're more likely to see the yellow jersey help guide Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard through a dangerous stage.
The same is likely to apply to Roubaix winner Dylan van Baarle, who will be charged with navigating Ineos Grenadiers' climbers Adam Yates and Dani Martínez through to the finish without losing time. Geraint Thomas could be one of the best among the GC contenders on stage five having ridden six editions of Roubaix (and secured a top-10 finish) in his career.
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) in that case is the clear favourite for the stage considering his Classics credentials, but Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl will ride hard to stop that with a team full of Classics fire power.
Any of Kasper Asgreen, Yves Lampaert, and Florian Sénéchal could win here, and that triumvirate of cobbles talent will make them hard to beat.
Stefan Küng has a strong case for being a favourite as well. The Swiss had his best-ever Classics season this year culminating with third-place in Roubaix. The only question is whether Groupama-FDJ will allow him to chase victory and leave their GC contender David Gaudu less strength to help him through the stage. Valentin Madouas and Olivier De Gac are two experienced Classics riders who could provide that support though.
John Degenkolb won the stage the last time the Tour crossed the cobbles in 2018 (James Startt)
Trek-Segafredo are a team not hampered GC considerations that could also do well across the cobbles. Jasper Stuyven and Mads Pedersen are the the obvious candidates to get in the mix here, though young Quinn Simmons may fancy a pop as an aspiring cobbled Classics rider.
Former Roubaix winner Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies) has shown some return to form at this Tour and could spring a surprise, but it still feels like somewhat of an unknown if he can contend here amongst such a strong field.
Other outside contenders for the stage would include Alexander Kristoff (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) who will fancy his chances should a group make it to the finish; very possible over such a short distance.
Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-Victorious) could be one for long, solo ride to victory, but again he could be tasked with looking after climber Jack Haig.
Oliver Naesen (Ag2r Citroën) and Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe) haven't shown quite the form to take a win like this for some time so would be very long-shots. Former Roubaix winners Philippe Gilbert (Lotto-Soudal) and John Degenkolb (Team DSM) - the latter of whom won the last time the Tour crossed the cobbles - will hope to be in the mix but would need a real turn in form to be in with a chance of victory.
Rouleur predicts: Mathieu van der Poel to win the stage, Wout van Aert to retain yellow.