Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) paced himself perfectly up Mount Ventoux to take an stage win on Bastille Day in Chalet-Reynard at the 2016 Tour de France on Thursday, while behind, chaos ensued behind.
As De Gendt was celebrating, having beaten breakaway companion Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data), behind him the race’s GC contenders were ensnared in one of the most unusual race situations in race history.
Toward the top of the climb, Chris Froome (Team Sky), Richie Porte (BMC Racing) and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) had distanced themselves from the rest of the GC contenders and were working together with less than 2km remaining in the stage. Porte was on the attack when a TV motorbike leading the trio came to a standstill due to the sheer number of fans lining the road.
The BMC Racing rider plowed into the back of the motorbike with Froome and Mollema also crashing. The Dutchman on Trek-Segafredo stood up and got going again, while Porte fixed his chain on his bike. Froome, who was hit by a second moto following behind, began running up Mount Ventoux, his bike destroyed.
The chase group containing the other GC contenders soon passed the maillot jaune and Porte, as Mollema pressed on to the finish. Froome stopped running after about a hundred metres and waited for a neutral support bike. He stood on the side of the road with fans screaming all around him, watching riders streak past, including Porte, who had fixed his mechanical.
Froome received a spare bike from Mavic neutral support, but it was too small and the bike didn’t have the right type of pedals. His team car finally caught up to him and gave him his spare team bike, so he could finish the stage.
ASO and the UCI race commissaires accounted for the bizarre incident, with Froome remaining in the maillot jaune. Froome and Porte were given the same time as Mollema on the stage. The two-time Tour champion leads Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) by 47 seconds with Mollema third, 56 seconds back. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) sits fourth, 1:01 behind.
“The Ventoux is full of surprises,” Froome said after receiving his maillot jaune. “In the last kilometer, a motorbike broke in front of us and made us crash. Another motorbike came from behind and broke my bike. That’s how I became a walker. I knew the car with my spare bike was five minutes behind. I’m very happy with the commissaires’ decision. It’s the correct one. Thanks to them and to the Tour de France organization.”
HOW IT HAPPENED
The 178km (110mi) 12th stage of the 2016 Tour de France tackled the “Giant of Provence,” Mount Ventoux, on Bastille Day. High winds topping 100km/h atop the moonscape summit of Ventoux forced the organizers, ASO, to move the finish to Chalet-Reynard, six kilometres from the summit. While the crowds wouldn’t be treated to the desolate looking summit, the shorter climb lent itself to more aggressive tactics on the lower slopes.
“Such a prestigious climb on July 14, it’s the pinnacle of the second week,” Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) said at the start. “We came to the Tour with ambitions and I’m happy to be in a good position on GC after eleven days of racing. Nobody has won the mental game yet. The Mont Ventoux is suitable for a top leader to do something big. It’s special. It’s a mountain in the middle of nowhere with no climb before to get the rhythm of climbing. It’s a different run-in compared to the other climbs. It’s a big place for cycling. With a time trial tomorrow, it’s the key of the second week. Nobody will be able to hide. Bastille Day adds to the motivation but we have to stay focused on every stage.”
After 13 kilometres a lead group 13 riders established themselves at the front of the race and began working to build a significant advantage before they were upon the slopes of Ventoux. Bertjan Lindeman and Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo), Stef Clement (IAM), Pauwels and Daniel Teklehaimanot (Dimension Data), André Greipel and De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Bryan Coquard and Chavanel (Direct Energie), Iljo Keisse (Etixx-QuickStep), Chris Anker Sorensen (Fortuneo-Vita Concept), Navarro and Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis) formed the leading breakaway.
With 85km to go, the breakaway had drifted more 18 minutes up the road with a chasing group of five riders containing Diego Rosa (Astana), Cyril Gautier (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Tom-Jelte Slagter (Cannondale-Drapac), Georg Preidler (Giant-Alpecin) and Paul Voss (Bora-Argon 18) stuck in no-man’s land between the lead group and the peloton. The route changed direction at this point and the riders were buffeted by a strong crosswind. Team Sky and Etixx-QuickStep came to the front of the peloton and soon echelons were all over the road, as many groups of dropped riders formed.
The green jersey of Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), who a day earlier was a protagonist in the crosswinds, was nowhere to be seen in the front group. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff), who are battling in the King of the Mountains classification, were also caught out and in the second group on the road with Sagan.
Fabio Aru (Astana) suffered a mechanical with 65km remaining and swapped bikes with teammate Jakob Fuglsang. The bike swap was quick and Aru quickly rejoined the group. The Sardinian stopped again 10km later to get his spare bike from his team car. He would again rejoin the leading peloton, but ws in danger of receiving a fine as he took several “sticky bottles” from his Astana team car.
The Category 4 Côte de Gorde (3.3km at 4.8%) and the Category 3 Col des Trois Termes (2.5km at 7.5%) allowed the peloton to eat away at the breakaway’s advantage and bring back the five-rider chase group. The latter climb peaked with 42.5km to go, and BMC Racing and Orica-BikeExchange had brought the peloton to under eight minutes behind the leaders.
On the descent of the Col des Trois Termes, Simon Gerrans (Orica-BikeExchange) led the peloton and came into a sweeping corner too fast and crashed heavily. Team Sky riders Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe also crashed. Froome’s loyal climbing lieutenant, Wout Poels, was also held up, but didn’t go down.
After the incident Froome went to the front of the peloton and then stopped for a pee break. The peloton eased up to allow the maillot jaune a successful return to the front after his “nature break.” The slowdown also allowed the fallen Sky riders to get back, as well as a group of riders who had been dropped when the race split in the crosswinds. The group containing Pinot, Majka, and Sagan were much farther behind at this point, and would not make it back to the peloton by the finish.
Greipel attacked the breakaway with 14km to go, but it was short lived and the breakaway brought “The Gorilla” back before the start of the official climb.
The breakaway began the hors categorie shortend climb of Mount Ventoux (9.7km at 9.4%) to the finish at Chalet-Reynard with a 7:17 advantage over the bunch. Movistar and Trek-Segafredo were driving the peloton put their team leaders in good position for the start of the climb.
De Gendt, a former wearer of the polka-dot King of the Mountains jersey at this year’s Tour, took the race by the horns and set a fierce pace at the front of the breakaway. Soon only three riders were together leading; De Gendt, Pauwels, and Navarro.
Pierre Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac) attacked the peloton on the lower slopes, but Team Sky shut the move down quickly with world time-trial champion Vasil Kiryienka setting the tempo on the front.
Pauwels accelerated with less than 7km to go and the increase in pace dispatched De Gendt from the lead. Jarlinson Pantano (IAM) attacked out of the peloton, grabbing the attention of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) who followed and quickly passed the Spanish rider. Team Sky slowly reeled in the two attackers.
As soon as Valverde was brought back Quintana launched an attack, but failed to open a gap as Froome sat behind two teammates. His former teammate, Porte, was locked on his wheel. Quintana’s acceleration created a select group of riders battling each other behind the leaders. Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) was the only notable GC contender absent from the group.
De Gendt rode within himself and rejoined the leading duo with 5km to go and went straight to the front to set the pace. The Belgian then attacked 3km from the finish and thus was able to get rid of Navarro, but not Pauwels.
De Gendt opened up the sprint from a long way out and was able to take the victory. Pauwels finished second with Navarro in third. Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie) was the best Frenchman on Bastille Day in fifth place.
“In the finale, Serge Pauwels and I talked about Dani Navarro, as Serge didn’t see him coming across, but he made it back only in the last kilometer so we could still sprint for the victory,” De Gendt said after the stage. “At the bottom of the climb, André Greipel attacked because the plan was to make the others work. Navarro also had a teammate with him. During the stage, [Greipel] brought me bottles, gave me advice, and he did most of the pulling. Normally I do that for him. It says how much of a great guy he is. He works also for a smaller rider.
“My stage win at the Stelvio [in the Giro d’Italia in 2012] was more emotional because it was the first one and it took me to the final podium of the Giro. But this is the Tour. It’s the biggest race of the year. For my career it’s the biggest victory. Now only a stage victory at the Vuelta is missing, so I might skip the other Grand Tours to achieve this goal of winning a stage at each of them.”
Along with the stage victory, De Gendt also leads the King of the Mountains classification.
CHAOS ON VENTOUX
Froome launched a decisive attack with about 5km to go and only Porte and Quintana were able to follow. The Colombian soon found himself in trouble and lost contact. He rode with a chase group of Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), Mollema, Bardet, Aru, Valverde, Yates and a few others.
“What we saw today was disastrous,” Quintana said. “We came ahead of Froome and Porte after that problem they suffered and apparently we ended up losing not much time against them, arguably the most important rivals. In hindsight, it seemed really premature to attack from where I did. There were gusty headwinds, I got caught really soon and wasted some energy which I missed at the end. It was a very demanding day, plenty of wind all stage, lots of horsepower – we came really out of energy into the final climb.”
Mollema soon attacked and bridged up to Froome and Porte. The chase group, being led by Bardet, was losing considerable time to attacking trio.
The motorbike incident brought total mayhem to the Tour de France and after the stage the commissaires spent considerable time working out the details and time gaps. Yates had the most to gain if the time gaps stood at they were, as he would pull on the maillot jaune. The race jury adjusted the time gaps and the British rider said after the stage he wouldn’t have wanted to take the maillot jaune in that manner.
“Cycling is the only sport where people can be so close to the players,” said Yates, who leads the Best Young Rider classification. “It has some risks. I was with Quintana and Valverde when Froome had a problem. I felt good but not good enough to follow Froome and Porte. Nobody would have wanted to take the yellow jersey like this so it’s a good decision the jury has taken. Tomorrow it’s a time trial. It’s not my specialty. I hope to lose the less time possible.” Sagan leads the points classification and also spoke about the massive crowds on Ventoux at the finish. “It hasn’t been an easy day,” the Slovakian said. “There was a lot of wind and splits in the peloton. I wasn’t chasing any goal today so I took it easy. I’m surprised by the number of people in the climb! I’m glad the public respects us, but I’m not sure if the whole peloton has the same feeling. I’m referring to Chris Froome.”
On Friday the riders will tackle the first individual time trial of the 2016 Tour. The 37.5km (23.3mi) route from Bourg-Saint-Andéol to La Caverne du Pont-d’Arc is not at all flat with 660m (2,165ft) of climbing, thus favoring a time trialist who can not only power on the flats, but can climb as well. The solo effort begins with a 7km drag out of town up the Cote de Bourg-Saint-Andéol. Perennial time-trial specialists Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) and Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) are favorites for the stage, along with Froome.
It was a mixed day for ORICA-BikeExchange. Adam Yates put in a strong performance to retain the lead of the best young rider category and second overall after chaotic scenes engulfed the finale. Unfortunately Simon Gerrans suffered a high-speed crash on a descent with 30km to go and has been forced to withdraw from the Tour de France after sustaining a broken collarbone.
Following the drama in the final kilometres, race officials decided to neutralize the general classification before the Porte incident. Therefore Froome remains in the race lead and Yellow with Yates in white, 47seconds down in second place ahead of tomorrow’s individual time trial.
Yates agreed with the decision by the race officials saying, “I wouldn’t really want to take the Yellow Jersey like that so I’m happy with the decision.”
“If I was in Froome’s position and if I’d lost the jersey like that I would want the same decision as him.
“It was pretty dangerous in the last kilometre, but the fans make the sport and there is not many sports where they can get so close to the athletes, but safety does need to improve."
Sport director Matt White praised the solid performance from Yates and echoed the growing concerns for rider safety.
“Adam (Yates) was once again riding alongside the big race favourites,” said White. “He even managed to try and bridge the gap to the Froome trio, unfortunately that never came to fruition because of the absurd end to the stage.”
“The safety of the riders should never be put in jeopardy under any circumstances and we need better measures to make sure that situations like today never happen again.
“Tomorrow will be an extremely important day for us,” continued White. “It will be a lot easier to assess our general classification possibilities after the stage. Adam has already had an incredible Tour so far and there is no pressure on him to approach things any differently than before.”
This article is a modified version of that originally published on cyclingtips.com
Photography by Cor Vos