No quarter given in clash of the cobble stones, Cup and centre court

So I wonder, what price could you have got set for last Monday, had you rolled Queensland winning the dead third Origin rubber (I love Queensland; I have my reasons), into Billy Slater winning the man of the series honours. In circumstances where Slater didnt even play the opening match, and where he wasnt the best on ground in either of the other two. Id assumed, in error, that “of the series” was a key element to be satisfied to win the Wally Lewis Medal.

Would the price have been higher than jumping on South Africas journeyman Kevin Anderson to beat Roger Federer in the Wimbledon quarter-finals, coming from two sets down, and then going all-up into Croatia denying Englands Three Lions the chance to bring football “home”? That Kevin Anderson is ranked the eighth seed at The Championships says much about the depths of talent in tennis.

Giant killer: Towering Kevin Anderson marched into the semi-finals with his upset of Roger Federer.

Photo: AP

But ah, the wondrous uncertainty; the delicious fickleness; the cruel mistress that is sport. Whatever you do, dont ever change a single thing. Don't change! Some things are best left exactly as they are, whatever the consequence.

Aside from two intermissions necessitated by World Wars, every Northern spring since the 1890s has borne witness to a peloton venturing out from Paris, en route to the old French industrial town of Roubaix. Hurtling over sector after sector of often wrecked, sometimes muddy, forever treacherous pavé. Paths laid down for horse-drawn carts, not carbon road bikes piloted by sinewy men in lycra.

Each April, 200-odd riders spear north from the so-called “City of Love”, onwards to the Arenberg Forest – the toughest mile-and-a-half of “road” in professional cycling – to arrive six or so hours later at a spartan velodrome, in the “French Manchester”. “Hell of the North” doesnt tell half the story.


Unstuck: Chris Froome was broken by the famed cobbles of Roubaix in 2014, which is where Le Tour reaches this weekend.

Photo: AP

Unusually, the Tour de France carnival rolls into Roubaix tomorrow. A stage of almost 160 kilometres, including 22 kilometres of dangerous, rutted pave. Underlining the pivotal nature of this ninth stage of Le Tour, while Christopher Froome has withstood pints of urine hurled in his face, and recent assertions of doping up on Ventolin, the only thing which has thwarted him winning each renewal of the race from 2013 onwards has been the cobbles, on which he broke bones in 2014.

So my point is this: this particular stage of the 2018 edition of Le Tour is pivotal. Add to that, the Tour de France is the most attended annual sporting event held anywhere in the world. Literally millions of people line the roads of France for three weeks and over 3,300 kilometres of racing. Half a million people will be on Alpe dHuez alone next Thursday. Yes, the spectators dont buy tickets like you do to a football game or tennis match, but theyre hardly uninvested observers. Cycling is the national sport of France.

Now by my rough calculations, the race to Roubaix on Sunday should finish around the same time that theres about 20 minutes plus stoppage time left on the rocket clock in the World Cup final played in Russias Luzhniki Stadium. France v Croatia – a match-up not quite for the ages, now football aint “comin home” for at least another four years.

Rock and roll: The cobbles could prove a snag for the Tour de France's finest.

Photo: Christophe Ena

Like England, France have won the World Cup just once – two decades ago against Brazil in the Stade de France. Undoubtedly, Les Bleus will start raging favourites. So, you have the biggest sporting event in France, clashing with the most significant sporting occasion of a generation for France.

Stopping there, at the same time the grupetto reaches Roubaix and the World Cup progresses towards “squeaky bum time”, the mens final at Wimbledon will also be underway. And this week, theres been a frenzied 11th-hour push to somehow shift the Wimbledon mens final right out of the way of the World Cup, as if its only just dawned on anyone that Wimbledon culminates the same day as do proceedings in Russia. Go figure.

So riddle me this: if one can make the argument that the All England Club should shift the start time of the Wimbledon final to accommodate the World Cup – and if that argument to do so holds any water whatsoever shouldnt it follow that the Tour de France organisers follow suit? Get everyone, from the maillot jaune to the riders on the autobus, to Roubaix in time for lunch?

One eyed: Croatian fans will have all eyes on Moscow on Sunday night.

Photo: AP

Naarghhh! Me either. As my wife might phrase it after one too many snakebites (Google it): “Thats utter bollocks” (thats if Alys can yet speak, so overcome with grief she is that football aint comin home).

The All England Club Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (as its properly known), just like the organisers of Le Tour, have known for years what time the World Cup final would be played. Years! As have the broadcasters that bought rights to televise the tournament. As have those whove purchased tickets and debentures. Move the Wimbledon final? Nonsense. Perhaps its a moot argument now though; because wherever football is going, it aint comin home …

Play the Wimbledon final hours earlier, all because broadcasters are concerned that ratings will take a nosedive? Please! All because broadcasters shell out zillions for the worldwide television rights to the World Cup and Wimbledon (and the Tour), and theres a clash. So what, exactly? Caveat emptor and all that. If the broadcasters are actually complaining at all.

And as to the suggestion that Wimbledons centre court wouldve been starkly bereft of spectators tomorrow, HAD England qualified for the final in Moscow …. Yeah, I dont think so. When I last checked this week, the going price for a pair of debenture seats at the mens final on Centre Court was £7,980.

Tennis balls only, please: Football will certainly not be coming home at Wilmbledon's Henman Hill.

Photo: Alamy

I didnt spy too many empty seats last Saturday at Wimbledon, at the exact same time England were opposing Sweden. And people who are paying that price to chug Pimms and eat strawberries arent really the same clientele who run riot in IKEA stores singing “Id rather be a cabbage than a Swede”. Sport needs both, and thatll never change.

Frankly, to suggest that Wimbledon should step aside in an act of misguided graciousness is complete nonsense. What if the All England Club started its final two hours earlier, and the match ends up being a five hour, five-set epic for the ages (involving Kevin Anderson, even)?

For mine, Im with Roger Federer on this. Federer, when questioned this week in a post-match press conference about moving the Wimbledon final (when he no doubt thought hed be a part of the action), he retorted “the Wimbledon final will take place, and so will the World Cup. Im more concerned that the World Cup final will have issues because the Wimbledon final is going on. Theyll hear every point, wow, love-15, 15-30. The (football) players are going to look up in the crowd and not understand whats going on at Wimbledon”.

Which of course may be about as likely as Ralph Wiggum fulfilling his dream of enrolling in Bovine University, especially if Kevin Anderson is playing. Yet in any event, while theres no doubt that football is the worlds game, even football cant just control the whole world.

Darren Kane is a sports columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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