Dangerous Finish: Stage 12 Tour de France

Race organizers must find a better way to keep the riders and spectators safe.
Tour de France leader Chris Froome runs up the last 1 km climb of stage 12 without his bike
Tour de France leader Chris Froome runs up the last 1 km climb of stage 12 without his bike

In a follow up to my recent post on the Kalamazoo cycling tragedy, the push for safe cycling met the world head on this week For those not familiar with the cycling world a major competition is currently going on in France called the Tour de France. This race is iconic and has been going on every year since 1903 when it began as part of a newspaper publicity stunt. 

 “On July 1, 1903, 60 men mounted their bicycles outside the Café au Reveil Matin in the Parisian suburb of Montgeron.”

A better way to explain the enormity of this cycling event would be to compare it to the NBA Finals or the Super Bowl. For those of us who are avid fans of cycling this is the moment we’ve been waiting for all year. The major contenders, the fight for the jerseys, the breathtaking (literally) climbs, the nail biting finishes and the penultimate circuit around the Champs-Élysées. 

Three of the top contendors in the Tour de France all crashed during Stage 12
Three of the top contendors in the Tour de France all crashed during Stage 12

Which is why what happened on Thursday brought drama and frustration. You may be wondering why this is important to the outside world and I guarantee you it is important. Let me set the scene.

It’s the final kilometer of a 178-kilometer (110 miles) race that began in Montpellier and was to finish on the iconic Mount Ventoux climb. Later the previous evening the Tour organizers decided to cut the race short due to high winds that would likely effect the riders. 

“There were gusts measured at 104kph, and we would run the risk of having riders blown off their bikes as soon as they came out of the forest.”

Overall leader Chris Froome, of Team Sky, is in a battle with rivals Richie Porte and Bauke Mollema at the 1-km mark. The crowd is thick, the climb is high, the riders are nearing exhaustion after nearly 110 miles of riding. A motorbike used to capture the event suddenly makes an abrupt stop unable to move due to the engrossing crowd. Without any warning, the riders are forced to crash in a domino effect toppling over one another and losing precious seconds in the overall contest.

In a panic Froome, who only had a 30-second advantage over his competitors, tried to get back on his bike but realized quickly it was not suitable to ride. Running on adrenaline, Froome ran up the narrow road the crowd along the street splitting apart. As riders passed they were clearly confused at what the overall leader was doing without his bike.

According to Union Cycliste Internationale, or UCI, the group that sets the rules for cycling in major events, a cyclist is allowed to pass the finish line on foot as long as the rider has their bike with them. What left many of the race commentators confused was why Froome had decided to leave his bike behind. 

Eventually Froome received a bike, not sized for him and without the correct pedals, only to go a short distance before abandoning the bike. A quick radio in to his team and he was finally given his bike crossing the finish line in sixth position on the overall leader board and losing his lead.

Overall GC leader tweets this out after a crazy finish
Overall GC leader tweets this out after a crazy finish

The unofficial results showed Adam Yates, of team Orica-GreenEDGE, with the yellow jersey. The usual yellow jersey ceremony was put on pause as the Tour de France judges met to decide what to do. It was clear that the crash was not the fault of Froome, Porte or Mollema. In the end the judges decided to have Froome remain at the top with the jersey and give Yates second position. 

So, why is this important to those outside of the cycling world? We may not all be participating in a major cycling competition, but we may see a cyclist on the road or a team riding on a Sunday afternoon. Whether you’re in your car or walking your dog on the sidewalk ― whatever it may be ― we want to share with you in a safe way. The reason for this crash was a lack of crowd control ― something we are not likely to encounter. However the issue of safety goes beyond any cycling event.

 It is clear this is a problem with several cyclists getting injured or killed due to dangerous, or irate, drivers on the road and a severe lack of respect. So, from a fellow cyclist, please be careful when you see us. We are partaking in something we enjoy and are not trying to slow you down or intentionally get in your path. 

For those of us in the cycling world, it is almost unheard of to see a rider having to run up a mountain without his bike. What happened today ought to wake up the race organizers and find a better way to keep the riders and spectators safe. 

Thankfully Friday’s stage 13 should be more calm, and controlled, with teams competing in a time trial. If you’ve never watched a stage of the Tour de France it is worth a look. 

Stage 3 finish in London July 2014
Stage 3 finish in London July 2014

I was fortunate to witness the Tour de France when I studied abroad in London in 2014 and I was thankful for the barriers. These riders, and the riders you may encounter on the road, are going fast. Respect them. Respect us. 

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