Tour de France riders stage protest over safety

Mathieu Van Der Poel withdrew from the race after a sleepless night at Kogarah police station. <i>Photo: EPA</i>

Mathieu Van Der Poel withdrew from the race after a sleepless night at Kogarah police station. Photo: EPA

Tour de France riders staged a protest at the start of Tuesday’s stage to complain about perceived dangerous racing conditions after a flurry of crashes reignited the issue of road safety.

Having left the town of Redon in the western Brittany region to start Stage 4, the peloton rode at a moderate pace and all riders got off their bikes after about one kilometre.

They waited silently for about a minute before hitting the road again.

After the crash-filled Stage 3, several riders criticised race organisers for setting up what they considered a dangerous finale to a Tour stage, especially in the early days of the race when nervousness is at its highest level.

Former world champion Philippe Gilbert said in a video riders’ representatives had asked for the Stage 3 timings to end with five kilometres left.

The goal by the majority of riders was to avoid a risky final sprint in narrow and winding roads leading to the finish line.

“We had analysed the route and saw that the finale was extremely dangerous,” said Gilbert, a Belgian classic specialist.

Gilbert said that race organiser ASO supported the proposal.

“But the UCI (cycling’s governing body) commissaires did not accept the request, it was rejected in the morning at the start of the race,” he said.

Gilbert said a pileup on a downhill curve about three kilometres from the finish was a direct consequence.

“There was a big mistake from the people who approved this route,” he said.

Thierry Gouvenou, who is in charge of the Tour route, told L’Equipe newspaper about the increasing challenges he faces to find finish sites without dangerous road materials.

“There are no longer any medium-sized towns without a small island, roundabout or narrowing,” he said.

“Ten years ago, there were 1100 dangerous points on the Tour de France. This year, there are 2300. If the level of demand becomes too great, there will be no more finishes. That’s where we are.”

Gilbert did not put all the blame on the route on the UCI, though, saying the teams that scouted it before the race should have let organisers know about its dangers.

One of Gilbert’s teammates at the Lotto-Soudal team, ace Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan, fell near the finish line as he contested the sprint and was forced to abandon with a broken collarbone.

Two top contenders for the yellow jersey – last year’s runner-up Primoz Roglic and 2018 champion Geraint Thomas – were involved in crashes on Monday, losing ground to their main rivals.

But they fell on straight roads with no major difficulty and did not blame organisers.

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