Chris Froome extended his lead in the Tour de France on Thursday, but only after initially thinking he had lost the yellow jersey in chaotic scenes.
We’ve unpicked the reasons behind Froome’s unscheduled run on Mont Ventoux, and the broader issues of rider and fan safety in cycling.
Why was Chris Froome running on foot in what is supposed to be a bike race?
Froome was trying to extend his advantage in the yellow jersey when he attacked alongside former team-mate Richie Porte and Dutchman Bauke Mollema late on the stage up Mont Ventoux, but with huge crowds on the roadside the trio crashed when a television motorbike was forced to stop in their path. Froome’s bike was broken in the incident, and with the support cars struggling to get through to him, he set off up the hill on foot before help could get through.
Have fans got in the way before?
The sight of the yellow jersey rider clambering up a mountain on foot, an ungainly process for anyone on cycling shoes, is not something you see every day, but fans getting too close to the riders unfortunately is. This is the third major incident in this Tour alone. Briton Adam Yates, still Froome’s closest challenger in the general classification, crashed into the collapsing ‘flamme rouge’, which marks one kilometre to the finish, on stage eight. On that occasion, a spectator accidentally pulled out the cable which kept the banner inflated. Yates was awarded back his lost time by the race jury. Froome himself was fined by organisers after punching a fan who got too close on stage eight.
Are motorbikes a problem in cycling?
Motorbikes are a key part of the race. They provide the television pictures and photographs, and are also used by officials to keep riders informed of time gaps, and carry drinks and mechanical support. However, the huge number of bikes out on the roads is an increasing concern after a number of crashes recently. In March, Belgian cyclist Antoine Demoitie died after a collision with a motorbike during Gent-Wevelgem, and Lotto-Soudal’s Stig Broeckx remains in a coma after being hit by a motorbike in May. Thursday’s stage winner, Thomas De Gendt, dedicated his victory to team-mate Broeckx.
Were there any unusual circumstances on Thursday?
Gale-force winds at the summit of Mont Ventoux forced organisers to take the decision on Wednesday evening to shorten the stage by six kilometres and finish the race in the shelter of the forest. But that saw the huge Bastille Day crowds compacted into a smaller section of road. Perhaps due to the late switch, there were also far fewer barriers in the final kilometres of the stage – exactly where the crash happened.
What can be done about it?
The fact that fans can get so close to the action is one of cycling’s main attractions, and many of the sport’s most famous images celebrate the amazing scenes which can unfold on the mountainsides where huge crowds gather. However, there is a line that needs to be drawn and organisers of many major races, including the Tour, run frequent campaigns imploring fans to respect the race and the riders. If that does not deliver results, fans may find they no longer have the freedom on the roads they currently enjoy.
Press Association Sport