Tour de France: Riders strike after crash-marred stages

Former world champion Philippe Gilbert wants riders to neutralize the first 10km of stage 4 in protest against Monday's technical finish.

Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

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REDON, France (VN) – The Tour de France riders are banged up, battered, and bruised, and they’ve had enough.

Following three harrowing stages, riders are working behind the scenes to make their frustrations and concerns heard. The peloton pulled to a halt after the stage 4 neutral zone, stopping briefly before riding slowly through the opening 10km.

However, there was some disunity within the bunch when the flag was dropped for racing and riders only stopped after André Greipel came to the front to express his frustrations.

Work to organize the strike began Tuesday with Philippe Gilbert trying to rally support via a WhatsApp group, according to VeloNews sources.

Several riders were caught up in a number of big crashes during the twisting final 20km of Monday’s stage between Lorient and Pontivy, including Gilbert’s teammate Caleb Ewan, and GC contenders Primož Roglič and Jack Haig – the latter of which was forced to abandon with a broken collarbone and concussion.

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The Belgian former world champion is a rider representative on the UCI’s safety commission. He criticized the decision by the UCI race jury to not allow the GC cut-off time to be extended, in a video posted on his YouTube.

Prior to the stage, Tour de France organizer ASO and rider union the CPA had agreed in principle to move the cut-off point from three to five kilometers to go in an attempt to make the finish safer.

However, Gilbert said that this proposal was refused by the commissaires, and the stage went ahead as previously planned.

“I think it was a bad day for cycling,” Gilbert said in his video. “We have studied the stage well, we knew that between Lorient and Pontivy things were going to happen.

“The riders had proposed to shift the time recording to 5 kilometers from the finish. Why 5km from the finish? Well, quite simply because we had analyzed the course and we saw that the final was extremely dangerous. And, to avoid nervousness we proposed the neutralization of the time at 5km, which would have avoided all the risk-taking in this nervous stretch and on far from perfect roads.

“So, ASO agreed but the UCI commissaires did not accept the demand. It was rejected this morning at the start. It’s a pity that the commissaires did not take our demand into account.”

Gilbert went on to say in his video that teams and riders that had reconned the course ahead of the race should have raised concerns earlier, rather than on the day of the stage.

A statement from the CPA, which was agreed by the riders, said it wanted discussions about changing the three-kilometer rule to be opened. Currently, on flat finishes in a stage race, any rider caught behind a crash within the final three kilometers will be awarded the same finishing time as the group they were in when the incident occurred.

“The riders of the Tour de France ask for the same respect – respect for their safety,” the statement said. “For this reason, they are asking the UCI to set up discussions with all race stakeholders to adapt the 3 km rule during stage races. This could avoid circumstances such as those which occurred in yesterday’s stage.

“Through this course of action, the riders intend to show their understanding to all parties and to open up to a constructive dialogue rather than create difficulties for cycling and the fans. However, riders and CPA are determined to pursue changes for the safety and physical integrity of athletes. These changes are more necessary than ever.

Michael Woods, who crashed out of the GC battle during a high-speed crash on the opening stage, said the UCI needed to put its money where its mouth was in terms of improving the safety of the sport.

“Yesterday was so dangerous, I would not have wanted to be in the GC at that point fighting for position. So, you’re going to find me at the back of the peloton for the next few days until we get to the mountains,” Woods told VeloNews ahead of the stage 4 start.

“You can’t point the finger at one thing, it’s a combination of everything. The technology, we’re going too fast, the course is too dangerous, riders too anxious, directors pushing too much. I think the main responsibility based off the information that is coming in is the UCI and the race directors. There needs to be a bit more thought put into the safety for the riders, particularly with the road furniture coming in over the last few years.”

Jumbo-Visma team manager Richard Plugge said all parties had a role to play on Monday’s drama and more needed to be done to improve safety.

“Everyone in the sport is to blame for this — we should have a sustainable future for the sport with a safe, healthy, and clean sport — we need to work harder for a better future for safety,” he said. “It’s unfortunate what happened yesterday.”

UCI president David Lappartient, who is from the finishing town of Pontivy, defended the course. He told French publication Ouest France that the crashes were caused by error rather than the route itself.

“The roads were beautiful, of constant width. There was no island, it’s just technical, but there was a nice straight finish line, it’s just that it was going fast as Pontivy is at the bottom of a pit. It is above all that there is a lot of nervousness in the peloton. Roglič fell on his own, Ewan fell on his own,” he told Ouest France.

“Most falls were because of a lack of vigilance, of attention, but I understand them, they are so stressed all day. Everyone wants to be in front, and there is no place for everyone. But I do not think we can put that on the back of the course.”

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