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It was a stage defined as much by a series of crashes as it was by Marianne Vos’ scintillating win and her claiming the yellow jersey. A string of crashes plagued the final 40 km of the race, with many riders hitting the ground and several forced into an early exit from the inaugural Tour de France Femmes.
Highest-profile amongst those abandoning the race was Marta Cavalli (FDJ Suez Futuroscope), second overall at the recent Giro Donne and one of the top favourites for the race overall.
With roughly 25 km to go Cavalli was caught behind a crash, and slowed to a crawl. Behind her, Australian champion Nicole Frain (Parkhotel Valkenburg) was chasing back to the fragmented peloton after an earlier crash. The TV images that followed were dramatic.
Frain hurtled into the bottom of the frame before colliding heavily with Cavalli then into and over Amanda Spratt (BikeExchange-Jayco). While Cavalli would leave the race, and Spratt limped to the finish nearly 10 minutes behind Vos, Frain finished in a large group roughly three minutes behind the stage winner. Bloodied and battered at the finish, Frain explained the incident from her perspective.
“I’d come down and then I was working my way back through to the peloton, and I was just using all the speed of the convoy to get back,” she told CyclingTips. “I think I was coming in pretty fast. And then there was a crash in the peloton right as I came back. I sort of used all my speed to sort of also go into that one.
“I thought I was going to make it through. And then there was a rider right in front and, yeah, you’ve probably seen the replay.”
That replay was cause for consternation over at the FDJ Suez Futuroscope bus. Speaking to the gathered media, team manager Stephen Delcourt expressed his disappointment at the way the host broadcasters focused on the crash.
“It’s really hard to see images like this,” he said, visibly shaken. “We can imagine like a member of your family when you saw that. I think the TV image [lingered] a lot of time.”
Delcourt also expressed incredulity at Frain’s actions.
“One rider come back after one crash,” he said. “I think she don’t see Marta and the second crash and she arrived at maybe 50 [km/h] and Marta was at 5 or 6 [km/h] and directly, boom. I have no words because when you saw images like this, it’s really hard.”
Frain later posted an update on Instagram, offering further clarification on what had happened.
FDJ Suez Futuroscope had started the day with its two GC riders – Cavalli and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig – both well placed on GC, in a big group 10 seconds behind overall leader Lorena Wiebes (DSM). By day’s end Cavalli was out of the race and Uttrup Ludwig had lost more than 90 seconds after being caught behind a crash herself.
While Delcourt was disappointed by the day’s outcome his primary focus was clear: Cavalli’s condition.
“OK, we lose maybe a battle for the race but most important for the team is Marta,” he said. “And we support her in priority.
“She hesitated to continue [the stage after the crash] and the team say no; we don’t want to play with the life of a rider. Cycling is just a part of the life but it’s not a priority. And now the doctor or physio are with Marta and they go to the hospital for a scan and we want the best for her.”
Several hours after the stage ended, FDJ Suez Futuroscope posted an updated on Cavalli’s condition. It was good news: no serious injuries.
“The first medical examination, carried out by the race staff, showed that Marta suffered a head and lower body trauma requiring her to go to the hospital for further examination,” the team explained. “The findings were reassuring and have not indicated any further injuries or fractures. Marta remains under medical supervision.”