A fan posing for the cameras with a cardboard sign managed to inadvertently wipe out most of the field with 40km to go when Jumbo-Visma’s Tony Martin couldn’t avoid the placard in his way. Most riders recovered only to be caught up in another crash in the final 10km at higher speed and with more casualties.
Chris Froome was one of them, and the four-time champion could be seen walking away gingerly from the scene. He got back on his bike and finished the stage but the Israel Start-Up Nation rider’s participation is now in doubt.
Alaphilippe and most of his Deceuninck–Quick-Step team avoided both incidents and as the road steepened towards the finish at Landernau, on a stage profile deliberately designed to put the darling of France in yellow by race director Christian Prudhomme, he seized his chance with a brilliant burst of power which no one could match.
The vastly talented Mathieu van der Poel tried to follow but faded, while last year’s Tour winner Tadej Pogacar could only watch down as the road race world champion Alaphilippe threw his hands into the air as he crossed the finish line.
“It’s a scenario I imagined and I really wanted to do it but of course I had to do it and it’s really super,” Alaphilippe said. “My team did a great job and controlled it all day. At the end I was caught in a crash but we got back and I really had to make the last climb. I had to get rid of the sprinters, it wasn’t easy but I gave my best and that was it.”
The day had started in a leisurely fashion, with a few sporadic breaks but nothing which could possibly forecast what was to come. The debutant Ide Schelling enjoyed a spell at the front, picking up enough King of the Mountains points to secure the polka-dot jersey, before he was swallowed up by the pack soon after the first crash.
He was the only rider ahead of the main bunch at the time when Martin collided with the spectator’s sign. Martin could do nothing to get out of the way, with a thick pack of riders on his left and a grass verge on his right, and had no choice but to ride straight into the oblivious fan’s piece of cardboard as it was help up for the cameras bearing a message to the fan’s grandparents.
First Martin’s teammates around him fell, before it spread like wildfire and about three quarters of the bunch were lying on the road in a pile of flesh and metal. Initial reports suggested only one rider was forced to immediately abandon the Tour, the German Jasha Sutterlin (DSM).
Those riders who avoided the incident took it easy in an effort to let the rest catch up ahead of the final climb of the day.
The Tour’s official account tweeted: “We’re glad to have the public on the side of the road on the #TDF2021. But for the Tour to be a success, respect the safety of the riders! Don’t risk everything for a photo or to get on television!”
Then as the finish neared, another crash. This one involved fewer riders but it was fast and saw one spectator appear to be injured as riders and their bikes spun off the road. Marc Haller, Andre Greipel and Ion Izagirre also joined Froome in the incident.
Ineos Grenadiers’ Geraint Thomas avoided trouble to finish only eight seconds back but plenty of contenders lost time in the chaos including Thomas’s teammate Richie Porte, more than two minutes back. And up ahead, Alaphilippe swapped the world champion’s rainbow jersey for the famous maillot jaune.
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