CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER
Is the Tour de France more dangerous than in the past? And can it be made safer without detracting from the spectacle?
The grim aftermath of the highspeed crash was captured on the Gopro of a team mechanic. It wasn’t merely the sight of dazed riders writhing in pain alongside a heap of twisted carbon that made the scene so grotesque. It was the sounds of their moaning amid a confused medley of shouts, car horns and the helicopters overhead. That and the smell of burning rubber, apparently.
Caused when Frenchman William Bonnet touched a wheel in a peloton rampaging along at high speed, the bomb blast of a crash that marred Stage 3 of last year’s Tour de France was so severe that the commissaires took the rare step of neutralising the race. A wise move, given that the Tour’s four ambulances and two medical cars were all tending to the injured.
Suffering from a ‘hangman’s fracture’ of the neck and wounds all over his body, the bloodied Bonnet was one of six riders to abandon that day, alongside the maillot jaune Fabian Cancellara, who had fractured his spine. Three days later Tony Martin – also in yellow – shattered his collarbone. It was the first time in history that two yellow jerseys had abandoned the same Tour, let alone its opening week.
Commentators talked of the ‘Tour de Carnage’ after 12 riders had withdrawn by Stage 7. But although almost 20% of the peloton didn’t make it to Paris, there have been fewer withdrawals per year in the past five Tours than the average since the turn of the century. If pro cycling is getting more perilous, it isn’t necessarily borne out by the figures.
‘The Tour is not more dangerous than in the past,’ race director Christian Prudhomme assures Cyclist, stressing last year’s yellow knockout was an ‘unfortunate coincidence’. Prudhomme blames ‘race tactics and the way teams ride together in the peloton. All the riders of one team now gather around their leader and fight to be on the front of the pack. Images from above show four or five teams occupying the first 30-odd places. If you’re stuck behind, in the words of Marc Madiot [Bonnet’s manager at FDJ], “You’re in the drum of the washing machine.” You have to roll with the punches.’
Cycling has never been more professional. Technological advances, intensive training and the culture of marginal gains have levelled the playing field to the extent that, according to