It would probably be easier to list the riders who didn’t hit the deck on stage one of the 2020 Tour de France.
Not only faced with having to race through a global pandemic, the rain arrived just in time for the Grand Départ in Nice to turn the road into a “skating rink” that brought down most of the peloton at one point or another.
Inside the final 50km the bunch eventually decided to temporarily neutralise the race, not wanting anyone’s Tour to end prematurely after the effort it’s taken to make the start happen.
But this pause in the action was ignored by Astana, who quickly paid the price for their actions after Miguel Ángel López careered off the road into a road sign after the Kazakhstani team upped the pace on a descent.
“I think the problem was the fact that it literally hadn’t rained here for two or three months,” Rowe said after the finish. “And then you have one day where it rains and the roads were literally like ice. I think most teams had at least half the team touch down today. Luckily we got passed it. We had a couple of touchdowns but we passed it.”
The Ineos Grenadiers road captain then explained that the peloton has a riders’ organisation which discusss safety before the French Grand Tour, before adding the whole peloton deserves credit for their conduct today, apart from Astana.
“We’ve got this riders’ organisation. There’s a couple of guys from each team in there. We spoke about it last night in terms of how we would approach the Tour de France in general and look after each other and do the right thing when needed. And whilst you want to race, and put on the best show… it’s the Tour, you don’t want to see people creeping around.” Rowe said.
“At the same time, you saw just how many crashes there were, and that was with the three descents being ridden at very careful speeds. I have to say chapeau to the whole peloton really, minus Astana, who decided to hit it down one descent and as a result their leader was then on their back. They made themselves look pretty stupid. But apart from them, chapeau to the whole peloton.”
Asked for his reaction after the finish, López didn’t allude to his team’s tactics, but gave assurances that he didn’t suffer any injuries when he fell, and that patches of oil and white paint on the road made the route treacherous.
“Lots of crashes, a route that was quite dangerous, on the descents there was lots of white paint and patches of oil and there was lots of tension obviously, which was increased by the rain,” the Colombian said. “On the last descent my rear wheel slipped away on a white line, but I’ve come out of it okay with no injuries to worry about even though I hit a road sign.
“In the end, I managed to get to the finish with the peloton and I think tonight I’ll recuperate and I’ll be ready for a big day tomorrow.”
Cofidis rider Guillaume Martin said the peloton had debated whether to neutralise the race before Jumbo-Visma’s Tony Martin did his best Christ the Redeemer impression and slowed the bunch.
“Last year the Tour had the hail, this time it was like a skating rink. There was lots of debate about whether to neutralise the race or not,” Guillaume Martin said. “It was complicated because after such a long wait for the Tour everyone wanted this to be a real spectacle, but it was really dangerous. There were lots of spots where there was oil on the final descent. The first stage of the Tour is always nervous, add in the fact that we’ve had all the concerns about Covid, then the bad weather and it meant that any one of us could have lost everything due to chance at any moment.”
Groupama-FDJ’s Marc Madiot, who must have had his heart in his mouth after seeing Thibaut Pinot hit the deck with 3km to the line, praised the riders for taking action, saying it was their instinct to neutralise the race rather than taking direction from organisers or team staff.
“The riders were unnerved by the race situation. The organisers put together a route, the managers make the tactics and the riders decide what to do,” he said. “They did well to neutralise it between themselves because it was a skating rink. That’s down to rider instinct.”