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Stage 12: Montpelier to Mont Ventoux, 184km

No, let me sum up. 13 man break, 5 man chase at 168 to go. High winds snap the peloton into pieces. Wind is so bad, in fact, that the finish line has been moved six kilometers closer, just at the edge of the treeline, since the original finish, at the summit of Mont Ventoux, is currently getting hit with winds of up to 70mph. So the finish has been moved, Pay attention, cos that’ll be important later.

There’s already been a crash. Simon Gerrans went down hard on a curve, followed by a trio of Sky riders, just like sideways dominos. Thankfully, they all got back up, and back in the race.

I watched the stage earlier today, and I sort of want to say, “Yeah, so shit happened, and then we got to the end.” Because while a climb up Mont Ventoux is always exciting, today’s stage was fairly normal up until the end. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So finally, today, we saw some actual attacks from Nairo Quintana, who’s been pretty conservative this whole race, staying close on Chris Froome’s wheel.

Up front, Serge Pauwels and Thomas de Gendt are battling for the lead!

Oh! Froome is pushing up, with Richie Porte behind him, and Nairo in his usual place, but Froome attacks, and Quintana falls off the back! And again, he has no other riders with him from his team!

Dani Navarro has joined the two frontrunners! Bauke Mollema has joined Froome and Porte!

Thomas de Gendt has crossed the finish line first— he’s gained 50 points in the King of the Mountains competition— and he takes the stage win! Pauwels takes second, and Navarro, third.

Further back down the mountain, Porte, Froome, and Mollema are still fighting. The crowds are closing in…and…sigh. Okay. Here’s where it gets fucked up.

If you’ve ever seen a mountain stage of the Tour, you know how insane the crowds get. Just— they’re so close on either side the riders are hemmed in to their elbows. People are screaming and waving flags and jumping up and down, running alongside— if they can get the space— an waving signs. It’s crazy. It’s dangerous. And it makes me very, very angry.

So all of a sudden, the cameras go back down to the Maillot Jaune trio and…there’s Froome. Going up the mountain.

On foot.

Running.

On foot.

Short story? Camera bike slams on its brakes. Porte slams right into the back of the bike. Mollema goes head over heels right after him. We can’t see Froome, but it’s later revealed that another motorcycle can’t stop in time, and runs over Froome’s bike, destroying it. There is absolutely, positively no way the Sky car can get to Froome, so he did the only thing he could think of: he tried to get some space, jogging up the road alone. The neutral Mavic car got to him, and tried to give him a bike, but his shoes didn’t fit into the pedals, and the bike was the wrong fit for him. He was pedaling furiously, and going nowhere. Finally, finally gets to the part of the course lined by barriers, the Sky team car AT LAST gets to him, his team mechanic leaps out of the car, throws him on his second bike, and shoves him running up the road. Perhaps a hundred yards up, he passes under the 1km banner, there’s a Sky rider waiting for him, whom he passes, probably in frustration and anger, though he catches up again, and they cross together.

It’s a fucking mess. It’s horrible. “You have guys running up the road in Borat costumes showing their ass,” says Adam Yates, angry that the crowd has become more obsessed with getting on TV than watching a sporting event. And he’s right. he’s completely right. I get that with the last-minute change of finish line, perhaps ASO (the Tour organisers) couldn’t quite get everything as put-together as they usually do. But this isn’t an isolated incident. Every mountain stage gets crazy like this. There are always too many motorbikes out on the road. There have been collisions with motorbikes. Just this spring, a Belgian rider, Antoine Demoitié, was hit by a bike and died. How many crashes have been caused or worsened by all these bikes?

I don’t hate the bikes. I don’t want them all out. Some of them are very, very necessary. There are officials on bikes there to catch infractions. There are TV cameras, and photographers, and that keeps the sponsors happy, and without sponsors, we don’t have teams, and we don’t have a race. But so many? I don’t know what the answer is.

And the crowd? Well, I love the fact that people can get so, so close to the race. Love that. But people cross the line from observers to circus performers, and we have a problem. Bob Roll made the point that with the moving of the finish line, 6km of people had to move down the mountain into the crowd that was already there. And don’t forget: some of these people take caravans and go up there days in advance to stake out a good spot. And get roaring drunk, because what the fuck else is there to do on the side of a road up a mountain in Provence? There are only so many times you can count the same sheep and sing “The Hills Are Alive.”

Today, race officials had to make some very very difficult decisions on what to do with the final standings. Adam Yates definitely crossed the line in a place that would have put him ahead of Chris Froome, and given him Yellow. But this wasn’t a regular stage finish. So they went through existing times, and positions when the accident happened, and in the end, after some very, very long, nail-biting moments of waiting that must have felt endless to the parties involved, Froome tweeted he had retained the race lead. There were some boos at the presentation when Froome was zipped into the Maillot Jaune, but those were from stupid people, and we don’t need to worry about them. When asked later, Adam Yates, who got the White Jersey of Best Young Rider, was extremely chipper about the outcome, saying he wouldn’t have it any other way, and the entire peloton agreed. “You want to win with your legs,” he says sagely.

The bigger the Tour gets, the more of a problem this is going to be. Something needs to change out there before someone else dies.

Chris Froome (right), Bauke Mollema (centre) and Richie Porte were left in a heap by the collision with the motorbike, from http://www.bbc.com/sport/cycling/36797558





Further reading about this insanity:

http://www.bbc.com/sport/cycling/36797558

http://www.sbs.com.au/cyclingcentral/blog/2016/07/15/tour-de-france-stage-12-time-harder-line?cid=trending

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2016/jul/14/chris-froome-mont-ventoux-tour-de-france-2016

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