It is always an iconic stage when the Tour de France includes Mont Ventoux. It’s a hard, no, a very hard stage. On the 13th July 1967 it claimed the life of Tommy Simpson who died 1km from the finish with the official cause of death being stated as “heart failure caused by exhaustion”. There has been a lot of speculation about the contribution doping made to Tommy’s death but that has nothing to do with this blog post.
This year’s race up Mont ventoux will be remembered for, as John Cleese sitting behind a desk In Monty Python’s would say, something completely different.
One of my pet hates has always been the way in which spectators crowd out cyclists on steep mountain roads. It doesn’t matter if it’s leaning in front of them, giving them a ‘helping’ hand by pushing them or running alongside, whether in fancy dress or not. It;s dangerous and stupid. The writing was on the walls a couple of days before the Mont Ventoux ride when Chris Froome punched someone who was running very closely alongside and in danger of stepping in front of him. Indeed camera footage of the incident seems to show the spectator’s flag nearly becoming tangled up with Chris’ handlebars and front wheel. Had that happened it could have brought Chris down and been the end of his Tour.
Ironically, the finish line for the Mont Ventoux stage had to be moved further down the mountain for safety reasons because of high winds at the finish line. This meant that more spectators were crowded into the last couple of kilometers, making the roads virtually impassable.
With just over 1km to go, the motorbike riding in front of Richie Porte and Chris Froome had to make a sudden,stop because of the crowds in the road. Porte rode into the back of the motorbike resulting Froome and Bauke Mollema crashing into Porte. Froome’s bike was damaged to such an extent that it was unrideable. We then saw the farcical scene of Froome running along the road until a replacement bike could reach him. When a neutral service bike finally did arrive, Froome couldn’t clip his shoes into the pedals as they took a different cleat to the one he was wearing. A replacement bike finally arrived for Froome who arrived at the finish line over 2 minutes down. If the times were allowed to stand, he would have lost the yellow jersey. Common sense prevailed and the finish time were taken as being at the time of the crash.
What must be urgently addressed by the race organisers is how to prevent this sort of thing from ever happening again and before there is a serious accident. In my view, the only effective way to deal with this is to start the roadside barriers from a considerable distance before the finish line or other pinch points. And for those barriers to be policed to stop idiots jumping or leaning over them. Using police outriders to try and clear the roads might work for the race leaders, but it would not be practicable to have police motorbikes leading every group of bike riders.
Whatever action is taken, it must be taken now.