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June 27, 2017

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Nightmare comes true for Tour de France as rain falls on cobbles

YPRES, Belgium -- Race leader Vincenzo Nibali and other riders' worst fears came to fruition Wednesday as heavy rain fell ahead of the start of the fifth stage of the Tour de France.

The 155.5-kilometer run from Ypres, Belgium to Arenberg Porte du Hainault includes nine cobbled sections totaling 15.4 km.

If those sections aren't tough enough on their own, rain and wind render them even more treacherous.

Nibali, who has been wearing the yellow jersey since winning Sunday's second stage in Sheffield, spoke of the impending doom following Tuesday's stage finish in Lille.

"(Wednesday) it's predicted to rain. We hope it won't because this can complicate everything," he said.

Team Sky's Geraint Thomas also spoke of his worst fears for Wednesday's tricky stage, a tribute to the epic one-day Classic Paris-Roubaix.

"It's going to be a nightmare, no-one's looking forward to it, especially if it rains," said Thomas.

"It's just going to be like riding on ice, especially with some of the corners on the cobbles. It will be last man standing I think."

This stage has had riders and spectators alike excited since the Tour route was announced last September.

But that excitement quickly turned to trepidation for riders as the realization that it would likely rain dawned on them.

Dutchman Lars Boom expects there to be a shake up in the overall standings at the end of the day.

"We can expect a true show," said the Belkin rider.

"It will be just as nervous as the first three days in Great Britain. The main thing is to hold a good position.

"The several cobblestone sections are far apart from each other, too bad if you ask me, but I think there will still be some time differences at the finish."

The last time the Tour passed through Paris-Roubaix's most notorious territory in 2010 it claimed several victims.

Luxemburger Frank Schleck, brother of Andy who won the Tour that year, broke his collarbone in a crash on the cobbles.

Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel, a Classics specialist, went into the cobbles wearing the yellow jersey but lost it after falling once and suffering two punctures.

To try to minimize the risks, teams use specially designed bicycles just for the cobbles.

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