Stage 9 – Pandemonium on the Pave
When Jens Voigt visited Criterium Cycles a few years ago and we enjoyed a wonderful evening with one of the legends of the sport, one thing he said in particular made me smile and has stayed with me ever since. He recalled, as a young pro rider, being introduced to cobbles for the first time. “I thought they were joking and winding me up” he said. “I never believed they were actually going to expect us to race on that. But they were. And we did. It was crazy!”
And it is crazy really. OK, so it’s exciting for the viewer in a macabre sort of way (the same way my 10 year old loves motor racing purely in anticipation of a really big multi vehicle pile up) but whether it’s all that sensible is a matter for discussion over a few Belgian or French beers, long into the night. One of the challenges is that when the accidents happen, the consequences can be severe. And on Stage 9 of this year’s Tour de France, so it was again.
Chris Froome set pulses racing when he crashed into the back of Gianni Moscon as the riders entered the pave section at Mons-en-Pevele with about 45km still to race of the 156km stage. To be fair to Froome, he had absolute nowhere to go when Moscon went down, which is one of the real problems of Pave – evasive manoeuvres are that much harder to execute. Fortunately for the Team Sky leader, he was quickly back up on this bike and back racing.
Chris Froome wasn’t the only Team Sky rider to have a bad experience on the stage. Egan Bernal, the highly rated young Colombian, up till that point a decent shout for the White Jersey, lost 16 minutes to end his competitive tour.
But worst of all was Richie Porte, the Australian leader of BMC. Last year he crashed out on Stage 9 whilst descending Mont du Chat in a real horror crash that led to fractured collarbone and pelvis. This year, also on Stage 9, he hit the deck after 9km before the cobbles even started. The suspected fractured collarbone caused him to abandon the Tour altogether. Desperately bad luck for the hugely likeable Aussie.
If there was terrible news for Porte however, there was joy for John Degenkolb who finally broke his Tour stage duck with a tremendous sprint finish, even having to lead Van Avermaet and Yves Lampaert out himself. It was doubly emotional for the powerful German from Trek Segafredo who had suffered a terrible crash in training in 2016, so bad that one wondered whether he would ever really recover the incredible form that had seen him win Paris – Roubaix and Milan – San Remo in the season before. Still, he did and it was great to see Trek and Degenkolb on top of the Stage podium.
Think we all need the rest day that follows!