On Saturday’s opening stage of the Tour de France, the s*** really did hit the fan. Granny and grandpa would have been so pleased…
The incident occurred with 45km remaining shortly after the summit of the penultimate climb. Just minutes earlier, Dutch debutant Ide Schelling, the last man standing from a six-man break to animate the 198km stage from Brest, punched the air after taking the KOM point that secured him the polka dot jersey.
Schelling’s joyous celebrations on wrapping up a classification jersey on his first day on the Tour are exactly why we watch cycling, why so many people line the road. What happened moments later, less so.
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With the peloton zipping along after cresting the summit, one fan thought this would be an ideal moment to send a message to their grandparents watching on TV at home. Stepping out onto the road with a cardboard cut-out bearing the words “Allez Opi-Omi” – Go granny and grandpa! – the careless fan knocked Tony Martin off his bike, the resulting ripple effect tearing through the peloton.
Julian Alaphilippe and Primoz Roglic were just two of the scores of riders to go down or be held up. They recovered to contest the victory – others were not so lucky.
A glaring lack of roadside fans often made last year’s autumnal Grand Tours surreal events – but the mountain stages, for instance, were certainly made all the better for the absence of moronic spectators running alongside the riders.
Already this season, in the Giro d’Italia, the winner on Monte Zoncolan – youngster Lorenzo Fortunato – was almost knocked off his bike by an over-zealous spectator, one of only 1,000 who were allowed up the cable car to view the Queen stage of the race.
In Brittany on Saturday, the spectators were out in their droves – and for the most part it was a reminder of what we have missed during this pandemic. But the spectator who felt it was more important to face the cameras rather than face the oncoming peloton – to send a message to Opi and Omi rather than watch Tony Martin hurtling along at top speed, doing his job after months of training, only to see his hard work brought to a bloody standstill – they made a colossal error of judgment that proved far more costly to others than to herself (she appeared to emerge unscathed from the collision).

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You can certainly bet granny and grandpa would not have been too impressed on seeing the cameras zoom in close to the ghastly sight of Jasha Sutterlin in floods of tears: the German Team DSM rider had finished his five previous Grand Tours, but his sixth was over just hours after it started.
Two more riders would abandon by the end of the day – Lithuania’s Ignatas Konovalonas (Groupama-FDJ) and France’s Cyril Lemoine (B&B Hotels p/b KTM) – after being involved in a second incident. This time, no fans were responsible; in fact, many were forced into taking drastic evasive action to avoid being hurt.
Two mothers pulled their children clear without a split-second to spare, but one chap in cycling gear was not so lucky – hit at speed and taken into a hedge. He was spotted later on helping riders on their way. Relief. Miraculously, everyone involved avoided colliding with the telegraph pole, the presence of which brought back chilling memories of terrible crash sustained by William Bonnet in 2015.
The high-speed crash occurred 7.5km from the finish and on a wide stretch of road on a sweeping downhill. It seemed to have been caused after Lemoine – or perhaps his teammate Bryan Coquard, who was also heavily involved – looked over his shoulder, only to lose control, causing devastation in their wake.
After months of speculation about whether he would ride the Tour – and if so, in what capacity – Chris Froome may well have wished he hadn’t bothered: the four-time champion came off badly and was left, in a crumpled heap, on the road amid the carnage. He eventually got back on his bike and completed the stage the best part of 15 minutes behind Alaphilippe and seven minutes behind the man who he’s meant to be supporting during this year’s race.

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In an instant, Israel Start-Up Nation’s Tour was in tatters – Froome a possible non-starter ahead of Stage 2 and Canada’s Michael Woods already languishing nine minutes down on GC. The team were highly unlucky, but by no means isolated in their misfortune.
If anything, Stage 1 was a good example of why race planners often put in a prologue to ease the riders into action rather than opt for the hectic tumble-dryer of a road stage. We’re just a day in and more than 40 riders have lost seven minutes or more, with many GC riders out of the picture already and scores of others nursing injuries which will either affect the remainder of their race or force them out before too long.
Tao Geoghegan Hart, on his Tour debut for Ineos Grenadiers, joins Spanish veteran Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) over five-and-a-half minutes down; Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) is over three minutes back; and Richie Porte (Ineos Grenadiers) is more than two minutes in arrears. Colombia’s Miguel Angel Lopez, who came down in the first crash alongside Movistar teammate Marc Soler, will be thinking it might as well have been a time trial: he’s already two minutes behind many of his GC rivals.
Meanwhile, Edward Theuns of Trek-Segafredo – who collided with a piece of road furniture just kilometres into the stage – hit the deck in both of the pile-ups en route to shipping 11 minutes.
Amazingly, given his track record with such matters, Geraint Thomas, the 2018 champion, only lost time to the stage winner: the Ineos Grenadiers leader came home in the 20-strong chase group eight seconds down on Alaphilippe.
The Frenchman timed his attack to perfection. Avoiding the pile-up, he benefited from a perfect lead-out from his experienced teammate Dries Devenyns before kicking clear with just over 2km remaining. Behind, the two riders more concerned about yellow in Paris than yellow in Brittany – Slovenians Tadej Pogacar and Primoz Roglic – seemingly toyed with the idea of leading the chase, before easing up to wait for the cavalry.
Roglic still kicked on to secure the remaining four bonus seconds for third place behind Michael Matthews of BikeExchange – not bad considering he rode the final hour of the stage on teammate Jonas Vingegaard’s bike (the Danish debutant, two centimetres shorter, still managed to finish in the same chase group). Their Dutch teammate Steven Kruijswijk, who finished in the Lopez group, only noticed that his own Cervelo was missing a rear fork once he crossed the line…
It was sixteen and a half minutes before the bloodied Martin crossed the finish line after Alaphilippe’s superb win – and another two before Marc Hirschi, Pogacar’s UAE Team Emirates teammate, came home. Clutching his wrist and shoulder, reduced to tears after his crash, Hirschi’s continued presence in the race is doubtful.
The Swiss wasn’t the last finish, either: Soler soft-pedalled home over 24 minutes off the pace – for the second year running, the Spaniard’s Tour prospects taking a massive blow from the very outset. The TV cameras may not have picked up much of his plight, but you can bet it will feature highly on season four of the Movistar Netflix documentary, The Least Expected Day.

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It’s a shame that there was such devastation – not least for all the riders involved, but for the poor fan who caused the crash, who will have to live with the damage caused by their idiocy – for it took some of the spotlight from what was an otherwise flawless and stupendous win for Alaphilippe: the latest in his swelling back catalogue of brilliant victories on the Tour.
Of course, he’s already notched wins in the yellow jersey, in the polka dot jersey and, last year at Nice, in the rainbow bands. But he’s the first reigning French world champion since Bernard Hinault in 1981 to win the opening stage of a Tour – and a timely reminder of his stellar ability. Can he go all the way? Probably not. But he should enjoy another lengthy stint in yellow, stealing some of the nation’s spotlight during a time their football team is making similar ripples on the centre stage.
And, so, on to the Mur-de-Bretegne, where the fans will be out in their droves but – fortunately – kept behind barriers. It would be a shame for this to become the norm. But if the spectators don't wise up, it may well become increasingly the case. Night, night, granny and grandpa...
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