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GAP, France (VN) — Smashed into from behind, Geraint Thomas (Sky) flew sideways as he entered a high-speed corner, spinning like a top over the guardrail, into a light pole, and down an embankment. He was stopped, unceremoniously but fortunately, by a small stand of trees.
Descending is a game of inches, and on that sharp right-hand corner near the bottom of the Col de Manse, Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) missed his braking point, where a rider would normally begin to slow, by feet. It was unrecoverable, forcing a two-wheel slide into an unsuspecting Thomas.
Why Barguil missed the braking point, why he went flying into a sharp right-hand corner on the inside of the road at a completely unsustainable speed, is disputed.
The young Frenchman has already proven his descending skills, pulling back a minute on the Col du Tourmalet last week. He’s a good bike handler, by all accounts, with skills gained in his youth as a BMX racer.
That makes the unsustainable speed with which he entered the corner all the more puzzling.
Barguil, speaking with media assembled by a small Giant-Alpecin RV, shifted some of the blame onto the shoulders of Tejay van Garderen (BMC), claiming that the American had bumped him into the inside line, and off his brakes.
“Just before the bend, Tejay van Garderen touched me with his shoulder and my finger slipped off the brake,” Barguil said. “I couldn’t brake. I was very scared, I thought I’d go straight [off the road].”
Van Garderen disagrees, shifting the blame back to Barguil.
“Warren [Barguil] was trying to come over the top of me, and I was trying to hold my position at the front to stay safe,” van Garderen told NBC.
“It was a matter of who brakes the latest, and he was just willing to take big risks,” he said, implying that Barguil braked late of his own volition. “He took out Geraint Thomas, and he almost took out himself.”
Video footage of the incident is inconclusive, but suggests that reality is somewhere between the two.
Cameras were not on the group in the run-up to the fast corner. When footage begins, van Garderen is just to the right of Nairo Quintana (Movistar), sitting in fourth and fifth wheel in their small, select group. Barguil, moving much faster, is on his right. The three are staggered across the road.
Van Garderen continues to move right, pushing Barguil further to the right. Van Garderen and Quintana brake as one would expect, while Barguil flies by both, unclips a foot, and slams into Thomas just before the corner’s apex.
Without video of the earlier moments, it’s impossible to say whether Barguil braked late because he was bumped, was spooked by van Garderen, lost concentration, or was trying to dive the corner and take positions.
The stories don’t match up, but the significance is the same. Thomas lost nearly a minute, but retains his sixth overall; he is, according to comments on the finish line, relatively unscathed. Barguil apologized at the finish line. Thomas was in good spirits at the finish, all things considered.
“A nice Frenchman pulled me out, but I lost my glasses as well. They don’t even make them any more,” he joked.
Later in the day, Barguil took to Twitter to apologize for the incident.
— barguil (@WarrenBarguil) July 20, 2015