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CHORGES, France (VN) — Despite Saxo-Tinkoff boss Bjarne Riis’ strong indictment of riders who fear Thursday’s technical descent from the Cat. 2 Col de Sarenne, Tour de France race leader Chris Froome (Sky) said the race’s queen stage should be neutralized after one passage up l’Alpe d’Huez if weather sours high in the Alps.
There is growing concern about the safety of the descent off Col de Sarenne, especially in foul weather over rough road surfaces and exposed drop-offs, and some of the peloton’s top pros were nervous on Wednesday.
Chief among them was yellow jersey Froome, who called for officials to neutralize the stage after one of two planned climbs up the Alpe if rain continues.
“It would be sad not to do two planned parcours of the l’Alpe d’Huez, but safety comes first,” Froome said. “That’s a dangerous descent as it is. If it starts raining, I hope race organizers take the decision to take it one time up l’Alpe d’Huez.”
Officials from Tour owner ASO, however, told reporters in Chorges on Wednesday that there were no plans to neutralize the descent, regardless of the weather.
Tour officials have closed the road since July 12, and will allow only essential vehicles on the road before the stage passes on Thursday. The publicity caravan, VIPs, and journalists will all be detoured off-course after the first climb to the Alpine ski station where the finish will take place.
That’s doing little to ease nerves. Riders have been grumbling about the planned descent off the Sarenne for weeks.
Another team raising concerns Wednesday was RadioShack-Leopard, which lost one of its riders during the third stage of the 2011 Giro d’Italia when Wouter Weylandt died in a high-speed fall. RadioShack director Kim Andersen echoed Froome’s concerns, saying the stage should end with one passage up the Alpe.
“We are very worried about this situation, especially if the weather is bad,” Andersen told Danish journalists. “It’s not just Andy Schleck who is worried. So is Jens Voigt, Tony Martin, Froome. Everyone in the peloton knows it’s too dangerous. I think it’s the right decision to cancel it if it’s raining.”
The polemic continued to churn post-stage in Chorges, as riders struggled on wet roads in the stage 17 time trial.
Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale) suffered a horrible crash late in the stage, falling at high speed on the same collarbone he had fractured during a morning training ride.
Some insisted the race must go on, no matter what, however.
“Listen, riders have been going down dangerous descents one thousand times before. They must hit the brakes and be careful,” Saxo boss Bjarne Riis told reporters. “This is a bike race; it’s not some Sunday morning grandma trip. They have to learn how to race their bikes and stop complaining.”
Froome countered that safety should be the most important concern.
“Fair enough, I can understand that,” Froome said when asked about Riis’ comments. “At the end of the day, all of the riders have to race it in the same condition. If we have to make this dangerous descent in the wet, we’re up for that. Everyone’s in the same boat. I just hope, safety-wise, it doesn’t get to that.”
Nerves are sure to compound Thursday, especially if afternoon showers douse the peloton, and riders start to attack over the top of the Sarenne.