For a Tour de France that has been relatively free of conflict, Stage 12 ended all that in the time it took for Chris Froome to get caught up in a crash caused by crowds and a motorbike on the slopes of Mont Ventoux. The stage had already been shortened due to heavy winds on the scarred landscape of the weather-beaten climb, and the crash came just as Froome and his teammates were turning the screws on his GC rivals. The tumble completely upended the general classification, as Froome dropped from first to sixth provisionally as a result of the misfortune, and there was immediate clamoring for Amaury Sport Organization to neutralize the result or to adjust the times — in a move that would be wholly against the race organizer’s precedent.
Yet the organization DID ultimately take an unprecedented step, restoring Froome into the yellow jersey and igniting controversy in the opposite direction. While the three-kilometer rule applies to flat stages, it has never previously been applied to summit finishes. It has always been incumbent on riders who crash to either hope the peloton slows itself down to allow a reintegration, or to limit their losses by any means possible. Froome, however, took another step that has long been against the rules.
Historically riders running without their bicycles up the road have been disqualified; Froome’s action not only went unpunished but was ultimately rewarded with the time adjustment instead. Given that the accident was the result of crowd interference, as a crush of fans flooded the lower slopes of Mont Ventoux after the finish line was moved down the slopes — ironically enough in a bid to protect rider safety — it seems like the most sportsmanlike move. But at the same time it does set a new precedent that longstanding rules can be subverted based on circumstance.
All in all it was a rough way to see Bastille Day celebrated in France, with this dispute at the country’s favorite sporting event overshadowing independence day. The day began just as one might expect, with Frenchmen trying to break clear of the pack as soon as racing commenced. Adrien Petit tried to celebrate by breaking away as soon as the race exited the neutral start, but was soon overtaken by a group of 14 riders that included four of his compatriots: Direct Energie’s Bryan Coquard and Sylvain Chavanel, and Cyril Lemoine of Cofidis. The peloton, unworried by anyone in the group, allowed the 14 to ride freely up the road.
Meanwhile a small chase group, including Cyril Gautier, fought to integrate with the leaders on the road. In just over an hour the breakaway had built up more than 15 minutes’ lead on the peloton. The group was left to hang between the main field and the leaders, thwarted by the strong crosswinds from closing the gap entirely but with enough firepower to hold off a peloton that was leisurely riding toward Mont Ventoux. As they neared the feed zone they found themselves five minutes behind the leaders, 10 minutes ahead of the peloton, and dangling out in no-man’s land as a result.
A crash about 32 kilometers from the finish line brought down several Team Sky riders. In an unconventional move for a yellow jersey, Froome rode back to pace his teammates back to the main field. The chaos allowed the breakaway to stretch back out to a nine-minute advantage, and Thomas De Gendt ended up slipping clear with Daniel Navarro and Serge Pauwels. De Gendt would end up sprinting clear for the stage win, finally taking the top prize after featuring in several breakaways throughout the first week and a half of racing.
But his victory was overshadowed by the events occurring further behind on the climb. Nairo Quintana kept accelerating, hoping to crack Froome and his Team Sky lieutenants, but he kept getting reeled back in. Instead, Sky punched the decisive move when Froome split off on his own with a few kilometers remaining. Breaking away with Bauke Mollema and Richie Porte, Froome soon found himself on the tarmac 1.2 kilometers from the finish when a motorbike was forced to slow as the crowds converged in the roadway. Porte took the brunt of the crash, running headlong into the motorbike, while Mollema and Froome also hit the deck.
The aftermath of the crash proved surreal. A second motorcycle ran into Froome, destroying his bike in the process. The yellow jersey ran up the climb for a short period with his bicycle before tossing it aside in search of a functional ride. Clicking in his cycling cleats, Froome eventually was able to get a replacement bike from the neutral service vehicle, but an improper fit and incompatible pedal clips caused him to lose more time. Finally he was able to link up with his team car and rode the final half-kilometer on a properly-fitting bike, but the damage had already been done…
… well, at least until it wasn’t any longer, thanks to the clemency meted out by ASO. Not only did ASO rule in favor of Froome, but they also went against another precedent of using the time gaps at the three-kilometers-to-go point. Instead, the race organizers upheld the time gaps at the point of the crash, further advantaging Froome as well as Porte and Mollema in the process. The reversal took the provisional yellow off of Adam Yates’ shoulders and put the jersey back onto Froome’s frame, but rather than fixing the situation it exacerbated it in the opposite direction as the pendulum effect swung back to punish those riders who were not involved in the crash.
We will see how the new gaps affect the race. Remember that Quintana’s crash early in last year’s Tour provided the winning time difference for Froome. Now, as the Tour rolls toward the first individual time trial in Friday’s Stage 13, Quintana might find himself once again disadvantaged by a crash — but this time by a decision to not only time gaps from a crash but to reward the crash victims with additional time bonuses. If Quintana loses this year’s race by 26 seconds or less, this incident will be looked back upon as the decision that possibly handed Froome a third Tour de France win.
Stage Results and Standings after Stage 12
|1||Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Lotto Soudal||4:31:51|
|2||Serge Pauwels (Bel) Dimension Data||+0:00:02|
|3||Daniel Navarro Garcia (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||+0:00:14|
|4||Stef Clement(Fra) IAM Cycling||+0:00:40|
|5||Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Direct Energie|
|6||Bert-Jan Lindeman (Ned) Team LottoNL – Jumbo||+0:02:52|
|7||Daniel Teklehaimanot (Eri) Dimension Data||+0:03:13|
|8||Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) LottoNL-Jumbo||+0:03:26|
|9||Chris Anker Sørensen (Den) Fortuneo – Vital Concept||+0:04:23|
|10||Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek – Segafredo||+0:05:05|
General Classification (yellow jersey)
|1||Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky||57:11:33|
|2||Adam Yates (GBr) ORICA-BikeExchange||+0:00:47|
|3||Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek – Segafredo||+0:00:56|
|4||Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team||+0:01:01|
|5||Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||+0:01:15|
|6||Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team||+0:01:39|
|7||Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team||+0:01:44|
|8||Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team||+0:01:54|
|9||Daniel Martin (Irl) Etixx – Quick Step||+0:01:56|
|10||Joaquim Rodríguez (Spa) Team Katusha||+0:02:11|
Points Classification (green jersey)
|1||Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff Team||309|
|2||Mark Cavendish (GBr) Dimension Data||219|
|3||Marcel Kittel (Ger) Etixx – Quick-Step||202|
|4||Bryan Coquard (Fra) Direct Energie||125|
|5||Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-BikeExchange||124|
|6||André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal||114|
|7||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team||112|
|8||Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Lotto Soudal||106|
|9||Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha||92|
|10||Daniel Navarro (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||90|
King of the Mountains (polka-dot jersey)
|1||Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Lotto Soudal||89|
|2||Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ||80|
|3||Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff Team||77|
|4||Daniel Navarro (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||68|
|5||Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin||58|
|6||Rui Costa (Por) Lampre – Merida||50|
|7||Serge Pauwels (Bel) Dimension Data||40|
|8||Stef Clement (Ned) IAM Cycling||35|
|9||Diego Rosa (Ita) Astana Pro Team||27|
|10||Winner Anacona (Col) Movistar Team||26|
Best Young Rider (white jersey)
|1||Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-BikeExchange||57:12:20|
|2||Louis Meintjes (RSA) Lampre – Merida||+0:01:42|
|3||Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Giant-Alpecin||+0:03:41|
|4||Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Argon 18||+0:13:46|
|5||Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo||+0:25:27|
|6||Eduardo Sepulveda (Arg) Fortuneo – Vital Concept||+0:37:45|
|7||Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Etixx – Quick-Step||+1:00:58|
|8||Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Argon 18||+1:06:36|
|9||Tsgabu Grmay (Eth) Lampre – Merida||+1:31:52|
|10||Jan Polanc (Slo) Lampre – Merida||+1:34:09|