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By Chris Carmichael, Carmichael Training Systems
The Tour de France can change dramatically in a matter of seconds. Crashes can lead to field splits that cause contenders to lost valuable time to their rivals, or much worse, injuries that send riders home early. Lance Armstrong was very fortunate today in that he avoided being injured in the massive pileup just 600 meters from the Stage 1 finish line. Unfortunately, several other riders were not so lucky.
Today’s crash occurred within the final kilometer, and all of the main contenders were either caught up in the tangle or just behind it. Tyler Hamilton came down hard on his left shoulder and x-rays after the stage confirmed he broke his left collarbone. Tyler came to the Tour with a legitimate chance to stand on the podium in Paris, and if it is true that he broke his collarbone and has to withdraw, it is terribly unfortunate and early end for his race. The good news is he was wearing a helmet and collarbones tend to heal quickly. If it is not a bad break, he may be able to race again this season and perhaps set his goals on the Vuelta a España or the world championships. Levi Leipheimer also went down and may have suffered back injuries bad enough to prevent him from starting Stage 2.
And Lance? Lance Armstrong was riding a little behind Jan Ullrich and had teammate George Hincapie with him. Ullrich was close to the crash and managed to move to the right side of the road before the cascade of falling riders reached him. Lance and George said they came around the right hand bend with 600 meters to go and ran into a wall of riders. As they got tangled with stopped riders ahead of them, more people came slamming in from behind. Lance has a few scratches, but overall he came out of it relatively unscathed.
When you are coming in to a fast sprint finish, it is difficult to see what is happening more than a few riders ahead of you. Out on the open road riders are able to scan the field farther ahead of them and spot trouble a few seconds earlier. This is part of the reason crashes in the final kilometer take down so many more riders than most crashes on open roads. When you can’t see what’s happening ahead of you, you don’t have time to take evasive action and you end up piling up on the riders who fell in front of you.
The barriers that line the final kilometer also contribute to the carnage. If there is a crash on open roads, you will see riders veering off into the grass to avoid falling and to get around riders blocking the road. The barriers near the finish line contain all the riders to the road, leaving no room for evasive maneuvers. Of course, those same barriers, though, serve and important purpose, as they prevent spectators from crowding in on the road and possibly getting hit.
Monday’s stage is similar to Sunday’s: There are a lot of rolling hills that will favor an early breakaway, but the stage will, again, most likely end in a field sprint. Even though there was a major crash today, the racing tomorrow will be as fast and aggressive as usual.
Lance will again call on his protective escorts, Hincapie, Vjatceslav Ekimov, and Pavel Padrnos to keep him near the front, out of the wind, and out of trouble. I’m sure I share everyone’s sentiments when I say I hope we won’t see a repeat of today’s mishap.