FOUGERES, France — Tour de France riders staged a protest at the start of Tuesday’s stage to complain about perceived dangerous racing conditions after a flurry of crashes reignited the issue of road safety.
Having left the town of Redon in the western Brittany region to start Stage 4, the peloton rode at a moderate pace and all riders got off their bikes after about one kilometer. They waited silently for about a minute before hitting the road again.
After the crash-filled Stage 3, several riders have criticized race organizers for setting up what they considered a dangerous finale to a Tour stage, especially in the early days of the race when nervousness is at its highest level.
Former world champion Philippe Gilbert said in a video that riders’ representatives asked for the Stage 3 timings to end with five kilometers left. The goal by the majority of riders was to avoid a risky final sprint in narrow and winding roads leading to the finish line.
“We had analyzed the route and saw that the finale was extremely dangerous,” said Gilbert, a Belgian classic specialist.
Gilbert said that race organizer ASO supported the proposal. “But the UCI (cycling’s governing body) commissaires did not accept the request, it was rejected in the morning at the start of the race,” he said.
Gilbert said a pileup on a downhill curve about three kilometers from the finish was a direct consequence.
“There was a big mistake from the people who approved this route,” he said.
Riders’ union CPA said in a statement it has asked the UCI to set up discussions to adapt the so-called “3-kilometer rule” during stage races. Under that regulation, riders who crash in the last three kilometers are awarded the time of the group they were riding with before they fell.
“This could avoid circumstances such as those which occurred in yesterday’s stage,” the union said. “Riders and CPA are determined to pursue changes for the safety and physical integrity of athletes. These changes are more necessary than ever.”
Thierry Gouvenou, who is in charge of the Tour route, told L’Equipe newspaper about the increasing challenges he faces to find finish sites without dangerous road materials.
“There are no longer any medium-sized towns without a small island, roundabout or narrowing,” he said. “Ten years ago, there were 1,100 dangerous points on the Tour de France. This year, there are 2,300. If the level of demand becomes too great, there will be no more finishes. That’s where we are.”
Gilbert did not put all the blame on the route on the UCI, though, saying the teams that scouted it before the race should have let know organizers about its dangers.
One of Gilbert’s teammates at the Lotto-Soudal team, ace sprinter Caleb Ewan, fell near the finish line as he contested the sprint and was forced to abandon with a broken collarbone.
Two top contenders for the yellow jersey — last year’s runner-up, Primoz Roglic, and 2018 champion Geraint Thomas — were involved in crashes on Monday, losing ground to their main rivals. But they fell on straight roads with no major difficulty and did not blame organizers.
A huge crash at #TDF2021 this morning was caused when a spectator held out a sign and struck a rider.
Jasha Sütterlin was forced to withdraw from the race due to an injury sustained in the crash, according to @LeTour. pic.twitter.com/XCcEjHRAGp
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) June 26, 2021
Saturday’s opening stage was marred by two big pileups, one caused by a spectator holding a cardboard sign in the way of the peloton.
Calling for changes in the sport without offering solutions, veteran Groupama-FDJ sports director Marc Madiot called on all stakeholders to take their responsibilities “because if we don’t do it, we will have deaths and I don’t want to phone the family of the rider who will be in hospital forever. That’s not worthy of our sport.”
The last rider to die on the Tour was Fabio Casartelli, an Italian on the then-Motorola team of Lance Armstrong who crashed on the descent of the Portet d’Aspet pass in 1995. Many serious crashes have continued to mar the race since.