MONT VENTOUX, France (AFP) — Several prominent Tour de France stars have been hitting out at organizer ASO for putting their lives at risk in the race’s hectic stages.
On Wednesday, the peloton was buffeted by wind throughout the 162.5km stage 11 from Carcassonne to Montpellier, making for an uncomfortable day in the saddle for many.
Prominent amongst the grumblers was Colombian Nairo Quintana, who lost another 12 seconds to overall leader Chris Froome in a finish covered at breakneck speed. “The organizers don’t think very often about the cyclists,” said the Movistar leader. “They’re looking for a certain type of spectacle, without taking into consideration the type of danger into which they’re sending us.
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“We’re risking our lives every day and they should rethink stages such as this [stage 11].”
Organizers did take note of the elements when deciding to shorten Thursday’s stage 12 finishing on Mont Ventoux by 6km due to howling winds reaching 100kph at the summit.
But so far it has been long flat stages and tricky sprint finishes that have angered the riders.
Quintana’s Movistar team manager Eusebio Unzue complained: “It’s an incomprehensible course. It seems incredible that they put us through all these little villages with the wind, putting our cyclists at risk.”
There were a number of crashes on Wednesday, and although everyone finished the stage, Katusha’s Jurgen van den Broeck was forced to withdraw from the Tour with an injury.
Yet the type of racing proved stressful for the riders, such as Geraint Thomas, Froome’s Sky teammate. “Annnnd relax…. 162km of fighting for every inch of the road!” he wrote on Twitter after the stage.
“Scared to blink”
Danger was a theme on many riders’ minds after stage 11, with Australian Simon Gerrans simply happy it was over. “That was up there with the most dangerous #TDF stages I’ve ever done. I was to scared to blink for 3:30hrs,” the Orica rider wrote on Twitter.
For Ireland’s Dan Martin, who is sitting third overall at 31 seconds behind Froome, the stage had been an unwelcome invitation to the riders to show off their bike-handling. “Thank you @LeTour for showing us the regions villages and their road furniture. Testament to riders skill there wasn’t more crashes #dangerous,” he tweeted.
Of course, not everyone was complaining, least of all Froome, although he acknowledged that in the morning before the stage “there were nerves” because everyone knew “the wind was going to be a factor.”
Not surprisingly, riders used to tackling the spring classics, which are often beaten by strong winds, driving rain and bumpy cobbled roads, weren’t bothered by the wind.
Trek sports director Alain Gallopin said his team had coped comfortably in the wind thanks to Fabian Cancellara — a three-time winner of the two major cobbled classics, Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders.
“With a road captain like Fabian, we don’t have any problem with the wind and the echelons,” boasted Gallopin.
“Limit of safety”
Yet for many sprinters, and Germans in particular, the conditions were unacceptable.
“The biggest bike race wants more safety & sends their riders in the smallest villages in South of France with Mistral being full on,” said Marcel Kittel, who’d complained before several times about chaotic sprint finishes, moaning that the roads weren’t wide enough and traffic islands were getting in the way.
Another German sprinter, André Greipel, said cycling bosses had even admitted Wednesday’s stage would be dangerous.
“What has to happen more if a @UCI_cycling commissar told us before the stage that the parcour we did 2day is on the limit of safety to race?” he wrote on Twitter.
Time-trial specialist Tony Martin moaned that their complaints were falling on deaf ears.
“After todays stage in the #TDF2016 I have to say that nothing changed after all the accidents and safety discussions,” he wrote.
But Dutchman Tom Dumoulin was unfazed: “Sometimes you can play with the wind, sometimes the wind plays with you. Today [Wednesday] it was the latter for me.”