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Tour de France

Commentary: Is the Ventoux crash the weirdest moment in Tour history?

The Ventoux crash on stage 12 was plenty weird. But how does it stack up against the weirdest moments in Tour de France history?

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We’re all still processing the epic weirdness that occurred on Mont Ventoux during stage 12 of the Tour de France. My guess is your heart is still palpitating and your face is still contorted from watching Chris Froome run in his clickity-clackity bike shoes up the side of a mountain.

What caused the crash? I suggest you read Andrew Hood’s breakdown of the event, and how it was a confluence of bad crowd management and — as we’ve seen before — motorcycle congestion. How can the Tour solve the problem? Short of cloning Bernard Hinault to act as a course bouncer — or putting cow catchers on the lead motorcycles — it looks like the best way forward is to install more barriers along the side of the road.

So how do we unpack the implications of this crash? I don’t know about you, but nothing helps me understand a wacky sports moment better than breaking it down into its basic strange components, and then placing alongside its peers in the pantheon of stupid or strange sports moments. Let’s analyze the Ventoux crash:

What was the weirdest part of the incident?

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We all saw what happened, right? Richie Porte, Bauke Mollema, and race leader Chris Froome were speeding toward the finish on Mont Ventoux when the road became too crowded with fans, forcing the TV motorcycle to stop. Porte slammed into the moto, causing Mollema to hit the deck and Froome to stop. The moto behind shattered Froome’s bike. With no bike, Froome took off running toward the finish line, before eventually getting a neutral Mavic bicycle to ride. Unfortunately the bike was too small and had the wrong pedals, so Froome pedaled along like your grandma before finally getting a new bike.

To me, there are three distinctly components of this weird scene: the crash, Froome’s run, and the bad bike exchange. So where do we rank these?

3. The crash was impressive, but the unfortunate reality is that we’re used to seeing bike vs. moto crashes these days. This one is particularly grotesque, since Porte basically kisses the camera lens.

2. I’m putting the bad bike exchange next. Also, watching Froome pedaling around on a teeny bike with the wrong pedals was, in my opinion, more awkward than watching him run in bike shoes.

1. Chris Froome’s run is the obvious weirdest part of the Ventoux crash. The sight of the Tour de France champ shuffling along is, hands down, the new image of this year’s Tour. Have you ever run in your bike shoes? I have, and I totally slipped and made an ass out of myself. Yet Froome seemed to accomplish this harrowing task with ease. And think about what this image says about Froome? The guy wants to win so bad that he will attack on downhills and flat stage, and even jog his way to the finish line.

Lance tangled with a musette bag in 2003. It was weird. But Ventoux was weirder. Photo: Tim De Waele |
Lance tangled with a musette bag in 2003. It was weird. But Ventoux was weirder. Photo: Tim De Waele |

How does this stack up against the weirdest moments in modern Tour de France history?

In the immediate aftermath of the Ventoux crash, I was ready to anoint the incident as GOAT in regards to Tour de France weirdness. I know — we’ve seen riders felled by stray dogs at le Tour, which is plenty weird. But the Ventoux crash had all of the components of an amazing and important calamity. The crash itself was sudden and spectacular. It involved the maillot jaune and led to some great images. And the race’s outcome was (in the moment) irrevocably influenced.

Of course, then the race officials decided to give Froome the same time as Bauke Mollema, which rendered moot his run for glory and clumsy bike exchange. With that in mind, I’ve bumped it down in the standings.

5. Lance and the musette bag, 2003. The Ventoux crash had similar components to the famed Lance vs. Musette bag calamity of 2003. But Lance was able to get back onto his bicycle — after smashing his testicle on the top tube — and ride to victory. The fact that Froome ran up the hill gives the Ventoux crash the edge.

4. Thor Hushovd was cut by a cardboard sign during the final sprint of stage 1 of the 2006 Tour de France, and the ensuing scene showed him bleeding all over the maillot jaune. This incident But again, the Ventoux crash has a slight edge here, due to Froome’s run and the implications on the overall.

Hushovd was sliced by a cardboard sign. Weird, indeed. Ventoux was weirder. Photo: Tim De Waele |
Hushovd was sliced by a cardboard sign. Weird, indeed. Ventoux was weirder. Photo: Tim De Waele |

3. The Ventoux crash. Again, I was ready to make this my No. 1. It involved the race leader, was exceptionally weird, and seemed to influence the overall. But the Tour commissar’s (correct) decision to erase Froome’s lost time dings it in the ranking.

2. In 2007 Rabobank kicked race leader Michael Rasmussen out of the race the day after he won the hardest stage and extended his seemingly insurmountable lead. It was totally bonkers. I remember thinking that the Tour might just stop altogether.

1. The Floyd Landis affair in 2006 is still GOAT. Floyd lost the jersey, then he got it back in that daring breakaway, and yeah, then he lost it again due to the Testosterone positive. The entire ordeal was an emotional gut punch, and still ranks as the Tour’s weirdest moment. It’s a good thing Floyd has found a medicinal way to get past the ordeal. 

Where does this rank among the most bizarre spectator moments in sports history?

There are far too many wacky moments from the history of professional sports to properly rank the Ventoux crash. But within that subgroup, there is a sizable collection of truly bizarre moments in which spectators have invaded the playing field and influenced the action. I think that’s a proper lens in which to view the Ventoux crash, since it was the hordes of rowdy fans that caused the calamity. As a caveat, I’ve removed all events involving soccer, since there are far too many to list. Jeez, soccer fans, behave yourselves. Also, the Monica Seles stab isn’t on my list either, because that was just horrible. So where does the Ventoux crash belong?

8. A shark attacks surfer Mick Fanning during the J-Bay Open. Cycling fans are terrifying, but sharks are way scarier. Still, I ranked this incident behind the Ventoux crash because the shark was not carrying a vuvuzela or a selfie stick.

7. April 1992: a Quebec Nordiques fan jumps over the glass and starts a fight with the Buffalo Sabres and gets pummeled by enforcer Rob Ray. Like the Ventoux crash, this incident included a guy (the fan) slipping around with improper footwear (not skates). But the fact that it didn’t influence the game means it loses a spot in the rankings.

6. August 2011: a drunk fan of the Jacksonville Sharks arena football team leaned over the stands and tackled kick returner C.J. Johnson before the player could return a kickoff. Most importantly, however, was that the Jacksonville players came up and hugged the drunk guy. I didn’t see Chris Froome hugging any fans after the Ventoux stage.

5. November 2004: The infamous Malice at the Palace between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons. After fans pelted Pacers forward Ron Artest with beer, Artest ran into the stands and started beating on people. I know, it’s not a particularly fun moment to remember. But it convinced the NBA to increase its security. Perhaps the Ventoux crash will convince ASO to line its entire course with barricades.

4. The Steve Bartman incident. You could make a strong case that this deserves to be the No. 1. I’ve talked with Cubs fans who legitimately believe they would have won the National League Pennant, the World Series, and maybe even the 2004 Presidential Election if the headphones-wearing Bartman hadn’t have interfered with Moises Alou. I’m bumping it down the list because — sorry Cubs fans — the 2003 Cubs were hardly the maillot jaune of Major League Baseball.

3. The Ventoux crash. It’s wacky, it almost influenced the race’s outcome, and it led to the leader resorting to unorthodox heroics, so it gets to be No. 3 on my list.

2. The fan man interrupts Riddick Bowe vs. Evander Holyfield. OK, originally this one was behind the Ventoux crash, because the parachuter fan guy who interrupted the outdoor fight didn’t change its outcome. But wow, the more I think about it, the more I see the fan man as truly weird. What’s the cycling equivalent? Maybe if that mankini-clad Borat guy from a few years back decided to run headfirst into the peloton? Or if somebody flew a drone onto the course, like this amazing ski video.

1. The Cal-Stanford “Play to beat the band” tops my list, mostly because there is a happy ending. For those of you who aren’t privy, Cal’s last-minute play was almost thwarted by members of the Stanford band who had rushed onto the field like throngs of drunk Tour de France fans. Amazingly, Cal player Kevin Moen dodged the tuba players to score.

Chris Froome didn’t have to dodge any tubas or band geeks, so I’d say he was pretty lucky. But the Tour de France isn’t over just yet.