It’s never nice to see such brutal crashes in cycling, but seeing so many riders abandon the race just three days in is particularly galling.
Poor Tom Dumoulin had recovered from the relative disappointment of not claiming yellow in front of his home fans on stage one to being in a position to take it at the end of stage three.
The Giant-Alpecin man was one of the first riders to hit the ground after William Bonnet came down at speed at the front of the peloton. A reported dislocated shoulder saw his race come to an end, as did Simon Gerrans’s with a fractured wrist.
A lot has been done to make cycling safer in recent years, but with this type of crash there’s next to nothing you can do to avoid it.
The neutralisation of the race
While crashes are unfortunately commonplace in cycling, the complete neutralisation of the race is still pretty rare.
Race director Christian Prudhomme brought the entire peloton to a standstill in a small Belgain town for what felt like the best part of 15 minutes while medics treated the mass of riders who were caught up in the crash.
There was a good deal of consternation at the front of the peloton as several teams attempted to keep the race going, with it initially looking like the race was neutralised to allow race leader Fabian Cancellara catch up.
But as time went on it became clear that the race was stopped because all of the medical staff were busy back at the site of the crash, meaning there were none left to look after those riders still racing.
Not that the majority of the riders were made aware of this, with some riders reportedly bemoaning the decision at the finish line before being brought up to speed on the situation.
As it turned out, the decision was the right one – the riders’ health and safety must take priority over racing, although several riders certainly looked like they shouldn’t have been allowed to carry on. Cancellara, for example…
Did Cancellara ride through a potential concussion?
If you watch the crash on the television replays, you will see Cancellara’s yellow Trek flipping through the air after its rider was ejected from the seat by the crash.
The Swiss looked to hit the ground pretty hard, complaining of dizziness issues as he got back off the grass verge he found himself on, according to Trek Factory Racing general manager Luca Guercilena.
He got back on his bike, in significant discomfort by the look of it, and was as white as a sheet – possibly a sign of being in shock. He may have only ‘had his bell rung’ by the crash but it may have still been a concussion.
It’s a scenario we’ve seen all too much in other sports, notably those in which contact and collisions are commonplace. Rugby brought in touchline concussion tests after numerous athletes suffered complications in later life from the thousands of big hits they’d taken.
In cycling, American Pro Contentental team UnitedHealthcare have developed a roadside test for concussion, which allows them to quickly decide if they need to pull their rider out or not.
Whether any sort of test happened with Cancellara is unsure, but if he did indeed complain of dizziness it’s likely that he should have been stopped from racing there and then to be properly checked out.
Instead, the Swiss was congratulated for ‘soldiering on’, at the same time as the commentators praised the organisers for putting health and safety first by neutralising the race.
It seems there’s a long way to go in dealing with potential concussions in sport.
Froome into the yellow jersey early on
When the racing got back underway all eyes once again focussed on who would take the yellow jersey from Cancellara.
With the Trek rider struggling at the back of the second group on the road it was pretty clear that he wouldn’t hang on to the jersey – giving it up after just one day for the first time in his career.
Much like in La Flèche Wallonne, in which the Mur de Huy features, pretty much all of the action came in the final 600m of the race.
It doesn’t seem like a long way, but it takes a long time when the hill ramps up to 25 per cent, with a number of riders looking excellent and then immediately terrible on the steep gradients.
Clearly the safest place to be was at the front of the bunch, and Chris Froome did just that – leading the peloton up the early stages of the climb.
Alberto Contador looked to have Froome matched, sitting on the Sky man’s wheel for a few metres. But once stage winner Joaquim Rodriguez attacked, Contador couldn’t keep up with the chase, allowing Froome to take more valuable seconds.
What he also took, a little surprisingly, was the yellow jersey – a whole one second ahead of Tony Martin; the Etixx man scuppered by the time bonuses for the second day in a row.
The general consensus is that it’s a little early for Froome to be in yellow, what with several massively challenging stages yet to come in the first week.
Simply keeping Froome safe will be hard enough, let alone riding at the front of the peloton to keep hold of the yellow jersey.
Don’t be surprised to see Froome give the jersey up on Tuesday’s stage over the cobbles, be it intentionally or not, and then look to take it back when the race moves to his playground in the mountains.
Orica’s hopes are in tatters
What a day it was for Orica-GreenEdge, losing their team leader and talisman Gerrans to his third broken bone of the year, while also seeing sprinter Michael Matthews and all-rounder Daryl Impey shaken up by the crash.
Gerrans has had a pretty unfortunate last few months, breaking his collarbone in a mountain bike crash, followed by a broken elbow in his first race back at Strade Bianche, multiple crashes at the Giro d’Italia and now a fractured wrist at the Tour.
He was one of Orica’s three Australians to wear the pink jersey at the Giro in May, but that has been the lone high point of his season, with another crash seeing his hopes of stage wins at the Tour extinguished.
Without a serious overall contender, the Australian outfit were hyped up for stage wins and they have the potential to deliver them from any of their nine riders.
But now without Gerrans and with Matthews and Impey no suffering from their as yet unidentified ailments, their chances have just got slimmer.
Simon Yates told Cycling Weekly before the Tour that he didn’t expect the team to win the team time trial on Sunday – a discipline they’ve made their own in recent years.
But now the team may be struggling for enough fit riders to even make up a team for the stage nine challenge, especially with rain forecast on Tuesday’s cobbled stage.
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