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MANON, Spain (VN) — Danger is a normal part of racing, but the risks are supposed to be limited to the course, not after the finish.
Two leading riders crashed Thursday after crossing the finish line and colliding with a Vuelta a España race official after stage 12. A narrow finishing road and a miscue saw stage winner Alexandre Geniez (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Dylan van Baarle (Sky) hit the deck.
Geniez clipped the race official on the shoulder and then toppled into the two Spanish police standing at the line. Second place finisher van Baarle crashed in his wake and BMC Racing’s Dylan Teuns barely escaped falling.
“It was crazy at the finish,” Geniez said. “Someone went across the line and all these police were there. I went down first. Luckily a cop held me up. It’s a shame things like this happen.”
The finishing straight was extreme by any measure. The stage finished on a narrow paved road leading up to a lighthouse on the end of a rocky point that jutted into the frothy sea. Photographers standing at the line said the road was no wider than 15 feet across.
Photographers were squeezed onto one side of the road, leaving only a narrow path for the sprinting riders to pass. The Vuelta official had run down the hill to redirect approaching team cars and was returning to his post behind the photographers. It appears the official turned just as Geniez had narrowly edged Van Baarle for the victory and clipped their shoulder with the Frenchman. Vuelta officials confirmed the staffer did not suffer serious injuries.
“It was so narrow there, only one meter between the photographers and the fences,” van Baarle said. “So what was that man doing there? The only thing I could do was bump against him. It’s crazy that these things can happen, it has to be safe for the riders, but it isn’t.”
Sky officials confirmed that van Baarle suffered cuts to his right hip and elbow and bruises to his ribs.
“I am lucky nothing is broken, the most pain is in my groin,” he added. “Hopefully I have a good sleep. The intention is to start tomorrow.”
Geniez said riders were angry at the finish line chaos and wondered out loud what would have happened if a larger bunch of riders had arrived instead of a fractured breakaway.
“Despite all the safety measures, despite the security, I don’t understand why so many people are at the finish. We didn’t know what to expect on the narrow road. We did not even see the finish line until 300m to go. We were searching for signs to be able to know when to start our sprint,” Geniez said. “If 100 riders had come in together, it would have been impossible for them to stop.”
Teuns, who finished fourth in the sprint, said he narrowly avoided crashing on top of van Baarle.
“I saw someone from the organization running in front of Geniez, who then crashed right into him as did van Baarle,” Teuns said. “I was also somewhere in there when the crash happened but I didn’t actually go down and I was able to push myself towards the barrier.”
The Vuelta incident prompted a quick response from Gianni Bugno, president of the rider’s association, CPA.
“It is not acceptable that after months of work of all the stakeholders to improve the safety at the races, we are still seeing episodes such as the fall at the arrival of the 12th stage of the today’s Vuelta,” Bugno said in a press release. “This lack of attention from the organizers demonstrates a total lack of respect towards us that have worked hard to improve the safety at the races and a total lack of consideration towards the riders.”
It’s not the first time riders have complained about Vuelta course conditions. In this edition, Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) crashed on narrow, uneven roads in stage 7. In 2015, times taken from a team time trial near Marbella were nullified after riders complained after portions of the 7.4km stage were held over a dirt bike path along the seashore.