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Protecting Urán: Textbook save by EF in Tour de France stage 4

By Andrew Hood • Updated
Sep Vanmarcke helped Rigoberto Uran chase back to the peloton after a late crash in Tour stage 4. Photo: Tim de Waele | Getty Images

LA BAULE, France (VN) — It is any team’s worst nightmare. The GC captain hits the deck in a pileup just outside the “safe zone” in a bunch sprint. In a race that can be won or lost by seconds, a crash like this 5km from the finish line is worse than bleeding minutes on a mountain pass.

EF Education First-Drapac’s Rigoberto Urán went down in the late pileup Tuesday as the sprinters barreled toward the line at the Tour de France. Riders fell like bowling pins. A day after its confidence-boosting team time trial performance, months of work could have been wiped out in an instant. Urán hit the deck, smacking his right knee on the ground. The sprinter teams didn’t stop.

Instead of panicking, his team gave a master class on how to save the GC in a panic situation. We spoke to the protagonists at the line.

Daniel Martinez is the Colombian few have heard of, at least not yet. He was third behind Egan Bernal at the Amgen Tour of California and second at the Colombian time trial championship. On Tuesday, he was invaluable to Urán. The Tour rookie came across the line riding the bike with the No. 11 race number.

Martinez: “I saw Rigo crashed, and I immediately gave him my bike. When you crash that close to the line, it’s a nervous moment. We saved the day. That’s why I am there. That’s why we are all here. We are all riding for Rigo.”

Everything was going to script until the crash. Several EF Education First-Drapac riders went down along with dozens of others. Luckily, no one was seriously injured. Quiet workhorse Tom Scully quickly helped organize the situation.

Scully: “It was a bit hectic. It was pretty tense. We got through it pretty cool. We did a bike change with Dani [Martinez] on the spot. Simon [Clarke], Sep [Vanmarcke] and myself, it took a couple of pulls to get him back in the peloton. We came with the team plan to look after Rigo, and it’s working out pretty well so far. It was another team time trial today, but a short one.”

Road captain Simon Clarke had the “day off” and was rolling in easy at the back of the bunch. He saw the crash, and immediately realized it was Urán in the tangle of bikes and Lycra. He took charge and put everyone on the march as soon as Urán was back on the bike.

Clarke: “Not many times does a team captain crash in the last 10km and he finishes on bunch time, so if you can achieve that, it pretty much means you’ve done the impossible. Today is a perfect example, along with the TTT, how dialed this team is, and how dialed we are as a unit. I think there were five of us caught up in that crash, and everyone was straight up on their feet. Dani Martinez already had his bike ready to give to Rigo. No one even said of a word to each together, we didn’t even have to. What more could we ask for?”

Urán is a cool cat, and he didn’t panic in his first real nervous moment of this Tour. He knew more than anyone that if you lose contact with the bunch, the differences can be race-changing. Just look at Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin), who gave up nearly a minute after he was left stranded after the crash without teammates.

Urán: “The most important thing was to not lose time. The great teamwork of the squad put me right back on the bunch after the crash with about 5km to go, but we could enter with the same time as the main pack. It’s a long race, and it’s hard to avoid crashing. What we saw today was the dedication of the team and that we’re working very well together. Everything’s fine, I am fine, it’s all good. Tomorrow is a stage with a little bit more movement, and the most important is that everything is going well up to now.”

Sport director Charly Wegelius was impressed with how his troops reacted. No one can drill for a scenario like that. It’s instinct and knowing the trade. For Wegelius following in the sport director’s car, he knows there is only so much he can do.

“What can you do from the sport director’s car? Trust the domestiques. The first thing in a situation like this is find out where he is, and determine if he’s rolling. In this case, they gave him a bike ASAP and got him going again. They know the drill. Thinking so clearly at the end of stage like that is a good sign of where they are. If you’re on the ropes, you’re not making good decisions. We’re not going carried away. Yesterday was hard, we worked hard at that, and we ticked a box. It’s good for the whole group, but we know we’ve got to keep ticking away at the boxes, day by day. You can’t plan to fall off, but when it happens, it’s a question of how you deal with it.”

Urán and EF-Drapac saved the day. They’re still in the frame. This Tour is about surviving each day and recalibrating at the finish line. On Tuesday, they dodged a bullet thanks to their quick thinking. They were still even, and tomorrow’s another battle.

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