The Tour de France came to a screeching halt on Friday due to icy conditions on the descent off of the Col de l’Iseran.
Organizers abruptly shortened stage 19 after a storm dumped hail and ice onto a long stretch of road outside Val d’Isere in the French Alps.
“Very important message: Due to very bad weather conditions at kilometer 112—heavy hail—we are forced to stop the stage. We are forced to stop the stage,” said race officials over an official radio communique. “The times will be taken at the top of the Col de l’Iseran. We are going to stop the stage. Please let your riders know.”
Organizers decided to neutralize the race as the front riders were on the descent, and decided to award finishing times to the favorites at the top of the Col de l’Izeran.
The storm hit just as the front group of favorite was racing up the Col de l’Iseran, which tops out above 2,000 meters. The riders faced the long and winding descent off the pass into Val d’Isere, and the stretch of road that was impacted by the storm was near the bottom of the descent.
There were also reports of a landslide occurring across a section of road, and video appeared on social media appearing to show images of flooding and mudslides across the road. Race director Christian Prudhomme confirmed the mudslide in a comment he made to reporters at the finish line.
“So we had to send a motor bike up to alert them to stop,” Prudhomme said. “A few kilometers later there was gravel across the road. It was impossible to go on, there was no solution.”
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Colombian Egan Bernal was riding at the head of the race when the news came across race radio that the stage had been neutralized. Julian Alaphilippe, who was riding in the yellow jersey, was 2:06 behind Bernal when the race was neutralized.
News came across the Tour de France broadcast that the race had been neutralized when there were 33km remaining in the stage.
The news came as a shock to the riders, and TV cameras showed them reacting to the neutralization as they descended from the Col de l’Iseran.
Alaphilippe said that all of the riders were “in the same situation” following the move. The French rider said he did not believe he could have closed the gap to Bernal by the end of the stage to keep the yellow jersey.
“I don’t think so—It was a dream to have worn it for so long, it was longer than I ever imagined,” Alaphilippe said. “I did my maximum. I don’t have any regrets.”
Brent Copeland, manager of Bahrain-Merida, said he believed the decision was the correct one made by ASO.
“I think after seeing the images on TV, it’s a safety decision which has been the right decision because it was impossible to race in those conditions,” he said. “It’s the right call on that.”