Tour de France riders stopped the race at the start of the fourth stage to protest perceived dangerous racing conditions after a flurry of crashes raised the issue of road safety.
- The first week of the Tour de France has been marred by multiple crashes
- Monday’s Stage 3 drew criticism from riders for the layout of the route being dangerous
- Australian Caleb Ewan crashed as he raced to the line, breaking his collarbone
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 had criticised race organisers for setting up what they considered a dangerous finale to a Tour stage.
That finale saw Australian rider Caleb Ewan crash at high speed as he and fellow sprinter Peter Sagan tangled in a sprint to the finish line.
The crash left Ewan with a broken collarbone and out of the race.
Former world champion Philippe Gilbert said that riders’ representatives asked for the Stage 3 timings to end with five kilometres left.
“We had analysed the route and saw that the finale was extremely dangerous,” Gilbert said.
He said that race organiser ASO supported the proposal but the sport’s governing body rejected it.
“The UCI commissaires did not accept the request, it was rejected in the morning at the start of the race,” he said.
A near impossible planning task
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 1,100 dangerous points on the Tour de France. This year, there are 2,300.
“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 UCI, saying the teams that scouted it before the race should have let know organisers about its dangers.
Saturday’s opening stage was marred by two big crashes, one caused by a spectator holding a cardboard sign in the way of the peloton.
Cavendish shocks the cycling world
With the Stage 3 crash behind them there was none of that on Stage 4 but there was surprise as veteran sprinter Mark Cavendish rolled back the years and claimed his 31st Tour de France stage victory — five years after his last success in the world’s greatest cycling race.
The Briton, who finished outside the time limit in his previous participation in 2018, crashed out in 2017 and hinted at retirement last year.
He is now three victories away from the Tour’s all-time stage win record held by Belgian great Eddy Merckx.
Cavendish, back in the Deceuninck-Quick Step team this season after a five-year hiatus, powered past his rivals in the final straight to beat France’s Nacer Bouhanni to the line.
Belgian Jasper Philipsen took third place while his Alpecin-Fenix teammate Mathieu van der Poel retained the overall leader’s yellow jersey.
“I don’t know what to say,” said a tearful Cavendish, who was a last-minute stand-in on the team for Irishman Sam Bennett.
“Just being here is special enough. I didn’t know I would get to come back to this race.
“We didn’t know we were going to get there but we just see what a team this is. So many people didn’t believe in me but these guys do.”
As the stage came to a conclusion, breakaway rider Brent van Moer was close to upsetting the sprinter but he was caught by the charging peloton 150 metres from the line, with Cavendish producing a perfectly timed effort to snatch his 49th stage win on a Grand Tour in the town where he also prevailed in 2015.
Wednesday’s fifth stage is a 27.2-km individual time trial from Change to Laval, and all eyes will be on the overall contenders.
World champion Julian Alaphilippe, who has an eye on a potential podium finish in Paris after finishing fifth overall in 2019, is second, eight seconds behind Van der Poel.
Colombian Richard Carapaz is third, 31 seconds off the pace with defending champion Tadej Pogacar a further eight seconds behind.
Carapaz’s Ineos-Grenadiers team mate Geraint Thomas, the 2018 Tour champion, lags 1:07 behind Van der Poel while last year’s runner-up Primoz Roglic is 1:35 off the pace.