LE LIORAN, France (Reuters) - Riders were in a state of shock on the first rest day of the Tour de France after Sunday’s chaotic and crash-strewn ninth stage.
Four riders were forced out of the race after a huge pile-up on a descent while Spain’s Juan-Antonio Flecha and Dutchman Johnny Hoogerland were hit by a television car.
Even though the number of withdrawals this year has been no greater than in the past after nine days of racing, the crashes have been more spectacular and the injuries more serious than usual.
“It’s the most particular course I have known on the Tour de France. I hope that it will become a cycling race from now on because up to now, we had the impression they were looking for the most dangerous roads,” outspoken Swiss Fabian Cancellara, who often acts as a spokesman for the peloton, told reporters.
Flecha, who hurt his elbow, and Hoogerland, who lacerated his legs on a barbed-wire fence, were recovering on Monday and the Dutchman even went for a leisurely ride with his father.
Flecha’s Team Sky asked organizers to “take appropriate action” while Hoogerland’s Vacansoleil team were pondering their options.
“We visited the teams of all the riders who crashed yesterday. Vacansoleil are waiting to see how the rider feels and if he is unwell, it could become a legal issue,” Tour de France race director Jean-Francois Pescheux told Reuters.
“As for Team Sky, they look to me like they’re not going to leave it as it is. But I don’t see the riders staging a protest.”
Asked by Reuters what the International Cycling Union (UCI) could do to increase the riders’ safety, UCI president Pat McQuaid said: ”It would not be correct to react to an accident just now.
“However we must ask ourselves questions about the number of crashes, most of them taking place on straight lines. It is always the case in the first week of the Tour but the UCI road cycling committee will meet to discuss the issue,” he said.
While everybody was deploring the car incident, most riders and officials described the earlier crash that sent Kazakh Alexandre Vinokourov and Belgian Jurgen Van den Broeck to hospital as a mere racing accident.
Vinokourov fractured his right thigh and will be out of action for three months at least, a layoff which could mean the end of his career at 37. He was flown straight to Paris and underwent successful surgery.
“It’s terrible to think that it was my last Tour and that I won’t even make it to the Champs-Elysees. It would have been an end-of-career gift. Now everything is wasted,” he told French sports daily l‘Equipe.
Experienced riders and team chiefs said cycling is and always had been a dangerous sport.
“The Tour is hectic but it always is in the first week,” said Alberto Contador’s Saxo Bank team manager Bjarne Riis.
“The riders are also to blame because everybody wants to ride at the front. It would help if everybody was less nervous,” said veteran German Jens Voigt, who also blamed the increasing number of roundabouts in towns.
“They’re good for traffic but less for riders,” he said.
Garmin-Cervelo team manager Jonathan Vaughters, who lost American David Zabriskie to injury in Sunday’s mass pile-up, added: “That’s just the way the sport is. That’s part of what makes the sport so intriguing and beautiful. It’s also vicious and brutal. It’s a brutal, brutal sport.”
Editing by Mark Meadows