Something strange happened in the Tour stage today. During the descent of the Stockeu many riders went down. It wasn’t a handling error or just bad luck, for surely too many riders hit the deck for this to be just bad luck. Race director Jean-Francois Pescheux said he thought 60-70 riders crashed.
There could have been some diesel or oil on the road. Watching the TV coverage I saw a mechanic rushing on foot to get to a fallen rider, only to himself slip. Apparently cars and motorbikes were sliding too. That said, none of the breakaway had problems.
Given all this, I think it was fine for the riders to sit up and allow the race to regroup. But I’m not with them when it comes to sitting up in the finish. Now it’s easy to write this of course as I’m not in a race-haze of tired legs and low blood sugar. I’d have suggested the race restarts on the run in to the finish, certainly within the last three kilometres when any crashes would not harm the GC candidates. With Chavanel winning, a small bit of theatre for the TV audiences and the fans waiting for hours in the rain would have gone down well.
Given the narrow roads, the wet conditions and the pressure to be at the front, it’s almost inevitable that these things happen. The more the roads contain strategic points, the more riders will jostle for place and the more the chances of a crash increase.
Riders vs TV
Race organisers are always looking for a “spectacle”, something to make the race dramatic. But if it’s too much then the riders will protest and the drama soon ends up as a farce. It’s an interesting balance of power here, between the desire of the race and its backers, and the safety of the riders.