GAP, France (VN) — Moments after crossing the finish line, everyone was asking Geraint Thomas (Sky) if he was OK following his horrific crash on one of France’s most dangerous descents.
A doctor asked him his name, and without batting an eye, Thomas replied, “Chris Froome.”
That joke revealed that Thomas was indeed OK, and broke the tension of what could have been a very different ending.
“We came into a hard right. I was just following the wheel, then all of a sudden, [Warren] Barguil was going straight on, and pushed me straight off, into a lamppost and down into a ditch,” Thomas explained. “I don’t know why people don’t just chill out a bit.”
The Tour de France held its collective breath Monday as Thomas was knocked off-course, smashing his head, neck and shoulder into a lamppost coming down the narrow, off-camber descent of the category 2 Col de Manse.
A touch of shoulders with Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin), as the GC group swept through a narrow right-hander, sent Thomas toppling off the road. Incredibly, he quickly scrambled back onto his bike, largely uninjured and was able to salvage his sixth-place overall, losing only 38 seconds to the favorites.
Everyone was happy to see Thomas at the finish line.
“A nice Frenchman pulled me out,” Thomas explained. “They are nice here, there a few who are not.”
Thomas’ crash was the worst of what could have been a nightmare scenario for the GC favorites. Up to now, most of the Tour favorites have avoided serious crashes, but the Manse descent is one of the worst in the Tour. It’s where Joseba Beloki effectively ended his career in a horrific crash in 2003, the same incident where Lance Armstrong picked his way across a wheat field.
Yellow jersey Chris Froome (Sky) was happy to get down the Manse in one piece, but even more relieved to hear Thomas appeared to be not seriously injured and in good spirits.
“There were no worrying moments for me, but I was gutted to hear Thomas crashed,” Froome said. “He’s a tough guy. He’s a Welshman. He’ll be back into the race, and I have no doubt he will be up there in the mountains.”
Froome will need him. Sky lost middle-range climber and British champion Peter Kennaugh, who abandoned Monday after fighting through an illness the past few days, leaving Sky with eight heading into the final showdown in the Alps.
On the upper reaches of the Manse, Froome got a taste of what lies ahead in the Alps. He weathered attacks from Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). The latter took back a half-minute on pride. With Tuesday’s rest day coming as a sigh of relief for the battered peloton, Froome said he expects attacks from all sides going into the Alps.
“We can expect that kind of racing these next few days,” Froome said. “We can expect them to come at all different angles. That’s just a small taste of what we can expect these next few days in the Alps.”
Froome enters the Alps in an enviable position, more than three minutes clear of second-place Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and 3:32 on third-place Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing).
Froome knows he’s edging closer to Paris. Four hard days of racing stand between him and his second yellow jersey, and his confidence is growing, especially after avoiding danger on the road to Gap.
“There are only four racing days left now,” Froome said. “It’s definitely not over. All the teams are willing to attack, and we’ll see that all the way to Paris. Three minutes is a nice advantage, but if you have a sugar bonk, you can lose time very fast.”
Even more than looking ahead to Tuesday’s rest day, Froome was relieved to hear Thomas was OK. When a journalist recounted Thomas’ joke, when asked who he was, Froome just smiled, “He is clearly fine.”