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LE HAVRE, France (VN) — It’s what every GC contender fears — a finish-line crash. Months and even years of preparation, training, and sacrifice can be wiped out in an instant.
It happened Thursday, at the base of the final hump above Le Havre with just over 1km to go. A jiggle of a wheel, a bump of a shoulder, and — boom! — riders fall like dominoes.
Three major GC contenders hit the deck — defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) — and Chris Froome (Sky), who was right next to Nibali, barely manage to pedal clear of disaster.
With the exception of Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick-Step), who snapped his clavicle, and becomes the second yellow jersey to crash out of this Tour, the wounds were largely superficial.
“I had the doctor look at it; it looks like to be a superficial injury. The people at home can sleep easy,” said Quintana at the team bus, with his right elbow wrapped in gauze. “I hope tomorrow I don’t have any problems with the elbow, because it was a pretty hard blow. Right now, in the heat, I don’t feel anything wrong, but let’s see how it feels in the morning.”
Martin causes domino-effect
Like any crash, it happened in an instant. Martin got his front wheel hung up on the rear wheel of Bryan Coquard (Europcar), and when he over-corrected, he body-slammed into Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) to his right, who then knocked over Nibali. Froome bounced off the falling Nibali, and averted disaster. Directly behind Nibali, Quintana and van Garderen could not avert the crash, and both piled in on top.
Luckily for the GC contenders, the crash happened as the pack was on the sharply rising hill, so they were not charging at full sprint speed on the flats. Crashing at any speed can cause damage, however, just ask Martin. Quintana’s right elbow landed on the chainring of another bike, and he later had his arm wrapped up by a team doctor, while van Garderen’s impact was softened by the bodies of other riders.
“Luckily for him, he landed on a couple of other riders. He only had a superficial abrasion to his knee, and it doesn’t look like any serious involvement in the joint,” said BMC team doctor Max Testa. “It could have been worse.”
Others had time to react, or were simply lucky enough to not be riding behind the ensuing chaos, and avoided the drama. Cannondale-Garmin boss Jonathan Vaughters confirmed that Andrew Talansky steered clear of trouble.
“You always have to be alert. There is never a cease-fire, and the final part was an intense battle between the teams,” said Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo). “I’m happy I didn’t crash, and managed to save the day. I hope the guys that fell can recover.”
Because the crash happened with three kilometers to go, and the hill was not steep enough to be categorized as a mountaintop finish, all the riders involved in the crash were given the same time as the second-place rider, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), who crossed the line two seconds slower than Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-Quick-Step).
Froome, Nibali chat inside bus
Taking the worst of the fall, with the exception of Martin, was Nibali, who suffered his first major crash of this Tour. He slammed hard on his right side, but speaking to reporters later at the team bus, he indicated he suffered no major injuries.
“I’m OK. I hit my shoulder and leg a little bit,” Nibali said. “It’s never good to crash. I am not quite sure what happened.”
There was confusion and chaos at the team buses as riders, sport directors, and staffers scrambled to find out what had happened.
Immediately after the stage, Froome went straight to the Astana team, and surprised everyone by walking directly into the bus to talk face-to-face with Nibali to clear up the matter. Upon exiting, Froome only said, “Everything is OK,” and pedaled toward the Sky bus.
Nibali later emerged, and gave an animated account of what happened.
“I was angry with [Froome], but now we’ve talked and sorted it all out. It’s all fine now. You know, in the heat of the moment … but when you clear things up it’s better,” Nibali said. “At the time, I thought Froome had knocked me over, and that I’d fallen, but that wasn’t the case. I apologize to [Froome].”
Nibali added, “you always hurt yourself” in a crash, no matter how trivial it might appear. When asked if he would continue, he drew a loud round of laughter when he said, “We’re cyclists, not footballers.”