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Tuesday’s pan-flat stage on the western coast of France took riders through a fiddly route with more roundabouts, street furniture and pinch points than the most technical of Belgian kermesses.
With the peloton on red-alert for crosswinds and the fight for position in the bunch fiercer than ever, the tension cranked, and inevitably, the crashes came thick and fast.
Dozens of riders fell, including GC contenders Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Team Emirates), along with key workhorses and stage hunters such as Nielson Powless (EF Pro Cycling), Sam Bewley (Mitchelton-Scott), Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo), Nicholas Roche (Sunweb) and Pogačar’s wingman Davide Formolo.
Pogacar and Martin were lucky to come off relatively lightly. Not so for Formolo and Bewley, whose races have been put to an end by a broken collarbone and broken wrist respectively.
Even before the race had rolled out of Le Château d’Oléron on Tuesday morning, the parcours had come under fire after race bosses pieced together a stage that would achieve the rare feat of allowing a stage start and finish on two islands. EF Pro Cycling boss Jonathan Vaughters was one of the first to fire a warning, calling the stage “incredibly dangerous.”
Route for today’s #TDF2020 is incredibly dangerous. I mean, it’d be fine if the peloton were 25 riders, or if it were 1908 and the guys were all 20 minutes apart from each other. But it’s not…
— Jonathan Vaughters (@Vaughters) September 8, 2020
With France’s Atlantic coast notorious for high winds, the importance of being at the front of the bunch cranked up. Only so many riders can be in a prize position at one time, and as the road widened and narrowed, split and twisted, the crashes came thick and fast.
“The course was really unsafe in many places,” said Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma).
“You know that there will be wind, you know that everyone wants to be in the front of this stage, it will be nervous and then we will ride through a lot of villages with street furniture. That creates dangerous situations and it just wasn’t safe.”
Van Aert kept himself and race-leading teammate Primož Roglič upright through the nervous 169 kilometers of racing. Tour rookie Powless was less fortunate, caught up in the pileup that ended Bewley’s race.
“I don’t know what actually caused the crash but everyone was super tight and packed in there,” Powless said after the stage.
“I whacked my elbow pretty good but it doesn’t seem too deep. There was definitely a lot of road furniture and roundabout after roundabout, but I think at the end of the day though the crashes weren’t because of the road furniture. It was because everyone was jostling for position on a pretty straight forward wide road with some crosswinds. It definitely kept the race pretty stressful but I don’t know how many crashes happened because of that.”
Whether the crashes were caused by a fiddly route or increasing nerves in the peloton, many were reluctantly willing to accept the fact that such sketchy parcours are the inevitable byproduct of racing on the open road.
“To be honest, it was what we expected,” EF Pro Cycling sport director Charly Wegelius said of the incident-riddled race. “You have a route like that in a race like this, and there’s going to be collateral damage.”
Cofidis leader Martin, currently third on GC, has been left with what he describes as a “sore back” after coming down in a crash and was similarly resigned to the situation.
“The circuit was particularly dangerous, by the sea, with islets and roundabouts,” he said. “It’s part of modern cycling, the roads are made like this.”
Sam Bennett took victory after just under four nerve hours of racing. Anyone who came through the race without tasting the tarmac will likely also consider themselves a victor.
Not really what i had in mind.
Actually lost a very precious bracelet kilometer 75 ish in the crash if any founds it would be great! Thanks! pic.twitter.com/YWyMFaH9G3
— nicholas roche (@nicholasroche) September 8, 2020