Screwing Up on a Grand Scale

The Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España: the 3 Grand Tours of cycle racing. The best cycle teams in the world fighting it out over multiple stages spanning a couple of weeks for victory in a number of different classifications including Points, King of the Mountain and the all-important General Classification. Victory in these races would be a highlight of a professional cyclist’s career, a chance for them to compete against the best of the best. Yet far too often, we see results being decided by outside influences that are out of the competitor’s control, but could be avoided by the organisers.

When Geraint Thomas began Stage 9 of this year’s Giro on Sunday, he was 2nd in the GC, only 6 seconds behind leader Bob Jungels heading into a stage that could make or break a rider’s GC hopes. By the end of the day, bloody and bruised, he had dropped to 17th in the standings, 5 minutes and 14 seconds behind new leader and GC rival Nairo Quintana. This was not due to him struggling on the Blockhaus climb, but instead was the result of a completely unacceptable accident 13.5km from the finish. With the peloton spread across the road fighting for position, a police motorbike was stopped at the side of the road where it shouldn’t have been. Wilco Kelderman did not have the space to avoid it and in the resulting collision the majority of Team Sky, including Thomas, were brought down, along with Adam Yates of Orica-Scott, who has gone from 3rd (10 seconds behind the lead) to 16th (4 minutes and 49 seconds behind). Both of these riders were contenders for the General Classification but can probably now consider their chances over! Sky’s second GC contender Mikel Landa fared even worse in the incident, losing almost 27 minutes to the leaders.

While this can be considered an unfortunate accident, it is not an isolated incident of a rider being affected by outside forces that should not have been present. I have only started paying attention to the Grand Tours at last year’s Tour de France and in less than 12 months have noticed a number of incidents:

  • On Stage 7 on 2016’s Tour de France, Adam Yates’ attempt to gain time on his GC rivals was hit when the flamme rouge collapsed right in front of him. He had no time to stop before hitting the marker and ended up riding the rest of the Tour with a cut chin. This incident could have been much worse had this happened when the peloton was passing, but it still meant that Yates lost his chance to build an advantage against his rivals.
  • Yate’s trouble with the flamme rouge was quickly forgotten after Stage 12’s incident. After high winds caused the stage to be shortened, much of the last kilometre was left without railings to hold the crowd back. They duly swarmed all over the road, leaving a space barely wide enough for the riders to pass through. This led to an incident where 3 GC riders (Bauke Mollema, Richie Porte and yellow jersey Chris Froome) crashed into the back of a motorbike that was forced to stop by the crowds, leaving Froome’s bike unusable. As the Team Sky car was some distance down the road, this led to the famous images of the yellow jersey running up Mont Ventoux to reduce the hit on his finishing time while he waited for his team to catch up with a replacement bike.
  • Stage 5 of the 2016 Vuelta a España saw Steven Kruijswijk’s season ended early after a collision with a bollard left him with a broken collarbone. This bollard should never have been left in the way and, as if that wasn’t bad enough, was left at an angle pointing towards the oncoming riders. In truth, it is lucky that only Kruijswijk and Jan Bakelants hit the post as the peloton rode past.
  • Just a couple of days before this latest accident, Stage 7 of the Giro saw a miraculous near miss as riders came around a blind turn to find a marshal standing in the middle of the road flagging to warn of a traffic island. Somehow the peloton avoided hitting him, but that could have been a serious incident. Surely it would have been better to use barriers to block the road on one side of the island so that the island was part of the edge as opposed to being in the middle of the road?

4 incidents and a near miss. From just 3 races. And these are just the incidents that immediately came to mind, so there may be others that I have missed. All of these crashes have involved riders that would be hoping to compete in the General Classification, so the race results are being heavily impacted by each of these incidents.

Crashes happen, I accept that. Bad weather or riding too close to someone in a group can easily result in a number of riders going to ground, that is to be expected in the sport. What cannot be considered acceptable is outside factors that are wholly avoidable being allowed to affect the outcome of an entire race!

Would this be accepted in any other sport? If a fan ran onto a football pitch and booted the ball into the net, we would not count it as a goal, so why should we allow a rider’s GC standings to be affected by an outside stimulus? To continue the football analogy, clubs and tournament organisers do not wait for something to happen and then say it will not affect the result, they take steps to stop a match being decided by outside influences. That is why you see stewards and barriers all around the grounds to stop spectators getting onto the pitch. I appreciate that each stage of the Grand Tours is too long to have barriers every step of the way, but there are things that can be done to help. Having more spotters travelling in advance of the race to ensure there are no unsafe obstacles in the way would allow race directors and stewards to take appropriate steps to ensure that by the time riders get to that point in the road there is no chance of an issue.

Hopefully the riders affected will be able to minimise the losses over the remaining stages. More importantly, fingers crossed this is the last time we see a rider’s race ruined by something completely avoidable.

 

What were your thoughts on the accident? Do you think more can be done? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge

Teamwork makes the Dreamwork

Barring a massive shock, Chris Froome will today win his 3rd Tour de France. His lead of 4 minutes 5 seconds over Romain Bardet all but guarantees his place as only the 8th rider to have won the event 3+ times. Cycling has been an area of strength for Great Britain at the Olympics for a while now, and this is beginning to show in the Tour as well, with 4 of the last 5 Tours having now been won by Brits (3 for Froome, 1 for Bradley Wiggins).

What must also be noticed is that all 4 of these wins belong to Team Sky, who have certainly become a dominant name in road cycling in recent years. As great as Chris Froome is, much of the credit must also go to his supporting cast. Cycling may seem at first glance to be a very individual sport, but the team is arguably as important in this as in football or rugby.

 

In recent years, the quality of Team Sky’s domestiques has given their team leader every chance of winning the Tour. You just need to look at what some of these riders have done since leaving the team:

Richie Porte was a key figure in Wiggins’ Tour win and both of Froome’s previous victories; having moved to BMC Racing Team ahead of this season, he has established himself as team leader and finds himself in 5th place in the General classification, despite losing time to a punctured tyre in the 1st week and also being caught up in the crash on Mont Ventoux.

Mark Cavendish was a support rider in the 2012 Tour win for Bradley Wiggins, whilst also managing to win a number of sprint stages. A prolific sprinter now at Team Dimension Data, he is currently 2nd in the all-time list of Tour de France stage wins and has every chance of breaking the record moving forward.

As if having Cavendish and Porte supporting wasn’t good enough, Wiggins also had Chris Froome himself as a super-domestique in the 2012 Tour. Apparently helping his team leader win the Tour wasn’t enough for Froome as he finished 2nd in the General Classification before going on to become team leader and Tour winner himself the next year.

 

The role of a domestique is a selfless one, as we saw in Stage 19 of this year’s Tour. Geraint Thomas, gold medallist in the Road race of the 2014 Commonwealth Games and set to equal his best finish in the Tour de France of 15th in the GC, sacrificed his bike and his race (he lost 6 minutes) when Froome fell on a descent and damaged his bike. Wout Poels then did a great job to lead Froome up the final climb, resulting in him finishing 9th in the stage and actually increasing his lead in the General classification. It was also picked up during this climb that Poels was constantly looking back to ensure that Froome was still with him and benefiting from his actions. This is a team of 8 riders doing whatever is required to make ensure their leader wins with as little drama as possible. It has been mentioned on numerous occasions that there have not been many real attacks from competitors this year, but you just have to look at how Team Sky have raced, setting a hard pace that they are able to raise as soon as someone makes a move in order to draw them back in before they could cause any danger to Froome’s GC hopes.

 

When Chris Froome crosses the finish line in Paris this evening, it is likely that he will have all his teammates around him. Though he will be the one wearing the yellow jersey, this is a win for the whole team and for a fantastic team mentality. Congratulations to them all!