One moment Johnny Hoogerland was racing for Tour de France stage victory in a five-man breakaway on stage nine, the next he was cartwheeling through the air onto a barbed wire fence.
36 kilometres from the finish in Saint-Flour, Juan Antonio Flecha (Team Sky) was knocked off by a passing television car, emblazoned with France 2/3 logos. His tumble sent the Vacansoleil rider flying in spectacular fashion.
“It happened in two seconds,” Hoogerland said at the finish.
“The only thing I saw was him flying – it was terrible to see him like that,” Vacansoleil directeur sportif Michel Cornelisse, who had been in the following convoy of cars, told journalists at the finish.
The Dutchman’s legs and lycra were lacerated on the fence. After putting on a new pair of shorts and continuing, Hoogerland was quickly passed by the bunch and jettisoned, fighting to finish 139th, 16-44 down.
“It was shit,” Hoogerland told journalists at the finish. “I’m not angry, as I don’t think it was anyone’s fault. I’m still alive.”
He had some motivation to carry on: having won four of the day’s six King of the Mountain sprints in this Massif Central middle mountain stage, he was in line to pull on the polka-dot jersey for a third time, having worn it for two days after the sixth stage to Lisieux.
Difficult to accept
Still, the bizarre incident was tough for the Vacansoleil team to accept. They are riding the Tour de France for the first time after receiving a wild card, and a stage win would have made their race.
Directeur sportif Cornelisse said: “Firstly, we’re very disappointed. In a break like that, Johnny was very strong and believing in himself. Voeckler was powerful but he was going for the yellow jersey. I wouldn’t say we’d have won it.”
It is a relief to the Vacansoleil manager that there were no worse consequences for Hoogerland. “He crashed at 60km/h, and he was breathing very badly at first. He has to go to hospital now, but first of all, he had nothing broken,” Cornelisse said.
Ultimately, he was acceptant: “What can we do? The race is over now.”
Hoogerland was tearful on the podium as he received a hard-fought King of the Mountains jersey. “I won’t recover in a day, but I’m a Zeelander [region of Holland], we’re not easy to beat,” he said.
Tour de France 2011: Related links