Blazin' Saddles: cycling disasters, near misses and unlucky moments of 2017
In the third part of our end of season retrospective series, Felix Lowe takes a look at the calamities, close shaves and most unfortunate moments in cycling in 2017. From Peter Sagan's crash in the Tour of Flanders to Edvald Boasson Hagen missing out by just 6mm – the past 12 months saw its fair share of bad luck. And while some avoided catastrophe, others were less lucky…
It will be a loosely chronological run-through of various key and calamitous episodes from the past 12 months, starting with the moment where the Ronde van Vlaanderen was won.
Sagan, van Avermaet and Naesen crash on the Kwaremont
You know the drill. One moment you're riding along the gutter to avoid the harsh cobbles, the next you're being spooned by a rival whose bike is ominously shrouded in a spectator's black jacket.
The offending garment was draped over the barriers holding fans back on the Oude Kwaremont during the Tour of Flanders – and when Peter Sagan sought the most favourable path, his bars caught the jacket and, like Icarus flying too close to the sun, he was brought back to earth with his wings singed.
Closely following in his wake, Greg van Avermaet also came down – but it was the third rider, Oliver Naesen, whose torso ended up enveloped around that of Sagan as the two lay dazed on the cobbles.
If Sagan and Naesen's charge was over, van Avermaet managed to remount to lead the chase on his countryman, Philippe Gilbert. But the impetus was gone. The gap had come down to less than a minute before the crash, with 17km remaining.
Gilbert kept his cool and – after 55km out ahead – was able to walk over the line and lift his bike above his shoulders. Bloodied and bruised, van Avermaet beat Dutchmen Niki Terpstra and Dylan van Baarle for second place, 29 seconds down. It's not unreasonable to think that he could well have caught Gilbert had he not hit the deck. Then again, who's to say Sagan wouldn't have beaten van Avermaet in the sprint…? GVA said afterwards:
" It was bad luck. The last few years nobody crashed uphill on the Kwaremont. You know you shouldn't be racing on the side like Peter did, but that's what happens in a finale. You take risks and everybody tries to get on that path on the left, but it's just too close to the barriers. You know that if you crash, that your race is over."
Taaienberg trumps Tommeke
It was a cruel twist of fortune that ended Tom Boonen's chances of a final Flanders flourish on the very cobbled segment where he usually stamps down his authority. Having forced the selection over the iconic Muur van Geraardsbergen with his team-mate Gilbert, the four-time winner suffered a mechanical on the Taaienberg climb.
Gunning for a record fifth Ronde triumph, it was less of a fairytale ending than a glary fail as an exasperated Boonen was left marooned on the 'Boonenberg' while the favourites surged clear. Twice his chain got stuck between the cogs and the frame – and that was that for Boonen, who came home 3'30" down on his Quick-Step team-mate in 37th place.
Dog days for Sagan in Tirreno-Adriatico
The world champion may have crashed to earth in the Ronde, but donning a red skin-suit in the final day time trial at Tirreno-Adriatico, Sagan managed to dodge a rogue dog-walking pedestrian by veering through a tight gap in the road furniture and riding along the bike lane. Crisis averted by the coolest of cycling cucumbers.
Crazy marshal in the Giro
The Giro d'Italia organisers went to extraordinary lengths to avoid any untoward mishaps in the peloton – even if that meant placing a marshal waving a flag in the middle of the road after a blind corner…
We suspect the local underwear store got a new customer in the moments that followed.
Cleat of the moment as Conti crashes
Approaching the final kilometre of stage 8 of the centenary Giro, Valerio Conti harboured hopes of both a stage win and the maglia rosa. But some overenthusiastic pedalling through a tight uphill u-bend saw the Italian clip his pedal and floor his chances of glory. Somehow, the UAE-Team Emirates rider's cleats comically remained attached to the pedals as he humped the concrete while Gorka Izagirre rode off towards victory.
Policeman takes out Kelderman, Landa and Thomas
One day later, the debate about race vehicles and rider safety intensified when a policeman inexplicably parked his motorbike on the side of the road – to disastrous consequences for the likes of Wilco Kelderman, Mikel Landa and Geraint Thomas.
Landa pickpocketed twice in Giro
When the Spaniard led out the sprint only to be beaten by Vincenzo Nibali in Bormio, we forgave his naivety on the grounds that it was at least encouraging to see him back in business after that horrible crash. But when, two days later, Landa did exactly the same thing – this time laying it on a plate for Tejay van Garderen (of all people) in St. Ulrich – well, it was hard to give the Sky rider any slack.
As they say: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
At least Landa got it right third time lucky one day later in Piancavallo – although this time he wisely won stage 19 by going solo and not leaving it to the lottery of a sprint.
Valverde crashes out in drizzly Dusseldorf
Poor Dusseldorf: the German city paid all that money and instead of mimicking Yorkshire or Corsica, it achieved a lamentable first on the Tour – a Grand Depart that probably dented the local tourism industry. The heavy rain didn't just make the aerial shots of over the river Rhine look beyond ghastly, it created havoc during the opening time trial.
One particular slippery bend saw a raft of riders hit the deck – most notably Alejandro Valverde who, entering the race in the form of his life, slammed into the barriers with such alarming velocity that he broke his kneecap and went straight to hospital for surgery.
Valverde wasn't the only one to go down at the same bend. Cannondale-Drapac's Paddy Bevin was one of many to hit the deck both forcibly and noisily…
Bardet and Froome survive scare
Was there a better photo during the entire Tour than this offering from Chris Auld, who captured the moment both Chris Froome and his big rival Romain Bardet went down on a slippery corner in the second stage to Liege.
All the riders escaped unscathed from the incident, which you can view in this video below...
Sagan unclips yet still wins
That man Sagan, again. This time, the Slovakian tyro managed to win stage 3 of the Tour at Longwy despite inadvertently clipping out of his pedals during the uphill sprint. Michael Matthews and Dan Martin did their best, but Sagan was able to clip effortlessly back in before holding his rivals at bay to take the win.
Twenty-four hours later, however, the Bora-Hansgrohe rider was controversially kicked out of the race for an alleged elbow of Mark Cavendish.
Incidentally, it took the Court of Arbitration for Sport five months to conclude that video footage which was apparently "not available at the time" (and yet was doing the rounds on social media minutes after the event) showed that the crash was "unfortunate and unintentional". Deprived of the chance of winning a record sixth consecutive green jersey, Sagan was adjudged to have been unfairly eliminated by the race jury…
Boasson Hagen misses out by 0.0003 seconds
When Edvald Boasson Hagen used his race craft to win stage 19 of the Tour after attacking the break out of a roundabout in the final kilometre at Salon-de-Provence, it couldn't have happened to a nicer bloke. Having twice finished third and second, it was about time the Norwegian tasted success on the Tour – some six years after his previous triumph.
The circumstances of his first bridesmaid's finish in the 2017 Tour made it all the sweeter given Boasson Hagen – without a dedicated Quick-Step team behind him – had came within 6mm (or 0.0003 seconds) of beating the dominant Marcel Kittel.
Barguil also denied by a hair's breadth
Two days after Boasson Hagen's narrow miss in Nuits-Saint-Georges, Frenchman Warren Barguil had egg on his face after celebrating a win that instead went to Rigoberto Uran in Chambery. To be fair to Barguil, he had been told the victory was his – sparking tears of joy.
These soon became tears of disappointment once the result was revised.
History buffs were quick to point out that the shoe was on the other foot four years previously when Barguil beat the Colombian in a photo finish during the 2013 Vuelta. What goes around, comes around, eh?
Uran's big-ring win
Amazingly, Uran won the captivating stage 9 despite a rear derailleur issue meaning the Cannondale-Drapac rider had to tackle a decisive uphill drag near the finish while stuck in the most unforgiving gear. Still, being in the big ring helped when it came to the sprint with Uran getting the better of his five fellow escapees – including that man Barguil, who showed commendable bouncebackability by going on to win two stages and the polka dot jersey.
Martin wiped out by Porte in crazy stage 9
Of course, Uran's travails were all down to the debris that broke his gearing after the Colombian narrowly avoided a crash inside the final 15km. Yes, indeed, this was arguably the key flashpoint of the entire Tour – when Richie Porte hit the deck at top speed on the perilous descent of the Mont du Chat.
One of the pre-race favourites going into the Tour, Porte's bid for yellow ended with a broken collarbone and pelvis – although watching the replay of the accident, you'd think Porte got off lightly.
But if Porte's crash was of his own doing, spare a thought to Dan Martin who – in the form of his life – was taken out by the sprawling BMC rider from behind. The Irishman managed to remount before crashing on the next corner because of mechanical failure. So battered and bruised was his body that Martin looked like a octogenarian put through a washing machine just under a week later.
Amazingly, the Quick-Step rider only conceded 1'15" to his rivals on the day of his crash at Chambery. But if he trailed Chris Froome by 25 seconds going into that stage, he would end the Tour the best part of five minutes down. It later transpired that Martin had ridden the rest of the race with a fractured bone in his back.
Would Martin have won the Tour had he not crashed? Probably not. But his sixth place overall was the best of his career – and he'd surely have been pushing for the podium had Porte not ploughed into him.
Thomas's bad luck continues
Never have so many column inches been written about a supposed Grand Tour contender who has not once finished in the top 10 of a major stage race. It's bad enough with Porte – who took until 2016 to make the top five of the Tour – but Geraint Thomas, for all his promise, has yet to live up to his billing as a GC rider.
The Welshman's hopes were extinguished in the Giro thanks to that badly parked police motorbike – and his season looked back on track when Thomas donned the Tour's first yellow jersey after victory in the opening time trial at Dusseldorf.
But then the Sky rider crashed out of the race on the descent in the same crazy stage that did for his former team-mate Porte. Having completed his first 10 Grand Tours, Thomas has now DNF'ed the last two.
Feed zone floors Fuglsang
Fifth on GC going into stage 12 of the Tour, Jakob Fuglsang seemed to be vindicating Alexander Vinokourov's decision to place him – and not Fabio Aru – as Astana team leader. But then the surprise Criterium du Dauphine winner crashed needlessly in the feed zone of stage 12, fracturing his scaphoid and elbow and coming home 27 minutes down at Peyragudes.
The next day, on the Bastille Day stage to Foix, Astana made a right hash of things – surrounding a faltering Fuglsang with team-mates while leaving Aru isolated up ahead. When the Dane withdrew part way through the stage, Aru was under severe pressure up ahead but couldn't call on the likes of Andrei Grivko, Alexey Lutsenko, Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev, Dmitriy Gruzdev and Michael Valgren, who all had a battle to avoid the broom wagon.
Tolhoek's baptism of fire
There are few worse ways to start your maiden Grand Tour than by faceplanting inside the opening kilometres for no apparent reason. Step forward Dutch youngster Antwan Tolhoek of LottoNL-Jumbo, who somehow managed to somersault over the handlebars during the Vuelta's team time trial at Nimes. 192nd at the close of play, the 23-year-old impressively managed to rise to 28th come Madrid.
If Carlos Betancur needed a break, this wasn't what he had in mind.
With Movistar going into the Vuelta without any bona fide team leader, it was a chance for forgotten man Betancur to get some weight off his shoulders and shine. And that's just what the 28-year-old did in the opening week – until a freak accident on a narrow descent 40km from the finish saw him and Tejay van Garderen skid off the road at precisely the same spot where Ag2R-La Mondiale's Axel Domont lay prone after a similar incident.
The Colombian managed to finish the stage but came home a bloodied mess some 12 minutes down. Diagnosed with a fractured ankle, facial wounds and multiple cuts, Betancur didn't take to the start of stage 7 the next day. It was no surprise considering the mess he was in…
Froome crashes twice in red
The Sky rider may have done the Tour-Vuelta double but it wasn't all plain sailing - as this video from stage 12 attests...
Bridesmaid Poljanski denied in Vuelta
It was a solid year for Polish riders with Michal Kwiatkowski in Milan-Sanremo, Maciej Bodnar in the Tour and both Tomasz Marczynski (twice) and Rafal Majka in the Vuelta picking up major wins. So spare a thought for Pawel Poljanski, who finished runner up in successive stages in the opening week of the Vuelta.
Poljanski, a Bora-Hansgrohe team-mate of compatriot Majka, finished behind countryman Marczynski in stage 6 at Sagunt before leading a chasing trio home behind Slovenia's Matej Mohoric one day later. Twenty seven years old and five Grand Tours to his name, Poljanski is still in pursuit of a maiden pro win.
Spectator jumps in front of moto in Vuelta…
We know Spanish fans are passionate but do they really need to dive in front of motorcycles to show their love of Alberto Contador?
… or was he pushed?
The incident happened during stage 12 of the Vuelta with Contador riding clear of his GC rivals on the final climb of the day. What the TV images didn't initially show, however, was quite why this fan decided to plunge head first towards the neutral Shimano support bike. It turns out the Guardia Civil had a hand in matters…
Belkov shows class after pushing incident
In a separate incident, Russia's Maxim Belkov was pushed off his bike and over the barriers by a spectator during the same stage in an apparently unprovoked attack. It later emerged that the fan was suffering from a mental illness.
Belkov managed to continue and complete the stage without any further issues – and the Katusha rider showed class and compassion once he learnt the truth about the fan who had taken him out.
Heavy hand of the law in Norway
If the Spanish police were quite heavy-handed towards fans during the Vuelta, then there's no doubt where Norway's crowd controllers got their inspiration from during the World Championships at Bergen.
At least the Norwegian police showed their softer side dancing with fans once the action was over…
Horror crash for De Plus in Lombardia
Laurens De Plus' high-speed hand-in-mouth crash in Il Lombardia made for uncomfortable viewing, the Belgian Quick-Step rider overcooking a bend and flying head-first over the barriers on a fast and technical descent.
Thankfully, De Plus escaped with a mere small fracture of the tibial plateau – a knee fracture to you and me – although the 22-year-old had to be rescued from trees in a roadside ditch.
While De Plus' incident was caught on camera, the Belgian was not the only rider to come a cropper on the same corner: both Jan Bakelants and Simone Petilli suffered far more serious injuries after also crashing over the guardrail on the descent of the Sormano climb. Bakelants fractured seven ribs and his first and third lumbar vertebrae, while Petilli picked up concussion, fractures to his skill, vertebrae, right collarbone and right shoulder blade, and wounds to his right eye.
As Vincenzo Nibali went on to win the final monument of the season, a fourth rider – Daniel Martinez – also reportedly crashed on the same bend, but only suffered minor injuries.
Tour of Rwanda criticised after downhill fiasco
Every year, the animated crowds that accompany the Tour of Rwanda lead to calls for the African country to be considered as a host nation for the World Championships.
But if this horrific video is anything to go by, the Rwandan race organisers have a lot to learn when it comes to putting on a safe race.
Can you think of any more near misses or unlucky episodes from this season? Have your say below or Tweet me @saddleblaze.