It shouldn’t have mattered much, the descent from Montée de Bisanne to the town of Domancy, one of many in the Alpine valleys of France’s Haute-Savoie region. But that road and the mountain rainstorm that made it so greasy — not the category 1 Le Bettex climb, which began from Domancy in stage 19 — was the day’s defining moment for a number of top Tour de France riders.
Frenchman Pierre Rolland was one of the first to hit the deck, and at the worst possible time, as he was riding off the front with a capable companion in Lampre – Merida’s Rui Costa. The Cannondale – Drapac leader slid spectacularly into the roadside dirt but finished the stage, fortunately.
Also part of the breakaway, and another star climber, Dani Navarro of Cofidis crashed not long after Rolland. However, he was too injured to carry on and had to take a ride in an ambulance to seek medical care. The Spaniard, 33, already had two third-place finishes so far this Tour and was likely hoping to claim a win in the final mountain stages.
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Top GC riders weren’t immune to the perils of the wet, slippery descent either. Bauke Mollema had a dismal day, tumbling from second to 10th overall. “I came around a bend and saw Mollema just getting up from the crash. There were guys panicking all over,” American Pete Stetina said of his Trek – Segafredo teammate. “It was a slick descent from the paint on the roads from the time trial yesterday; it was pretty bad. We were slipping and sliding in every corner.”
Chris Froome crashed as well, causing Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali to hit the deck. Sky’s yellow jersey, composed as ever, simply took a bike from his teammate Geraint Thomas and carried on to defend his lead.
BMC’s Richie Porte also managed to finish with the front group, albeit with a bloody elbow. Though he was still in the mix, the Aussie will likely rue the untimely crash and furious chase that he and his teammates were forced to mount in order to rejoin the peloton.
Even before the rain fell, stage 19 claimed a high-profile victim in a crash of inattention. When a few riders touched wheels in the bunch, prior to Montée de Bisanne, double stage-winner Tom Dumoulin crashed and broke his left radius. His standing as a favorite for the Rio Olympics time trial is now in doubt.
“It’s a huge setback. After the crash I instantly knew it was bad news,” the Dutch TT champ said.
More rain is in the forecast for Saturday’s penultimate stage — perhaps after Friday, the riders will have a better feel for the slippery Alpine roads.