Tour chaos sees rare race neutralisation, puts Cancellara and others out of race

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HUY, Belgium (CT) – Although he battled on to finish stage three of the Tour de France after a dramatic and horrendous crash, stage two race leader Fabian Cancellara had to finally call quits on his campaign on Monday evening after it was confirmed that he had fractured his back.

The Swiss rider hit the deck hard in a big crash which occurred approximately 58 kilometres from the finish in Huy.

It occurred when the rear wheel of Paris-Roubaix winner John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin)’s bike clashed with the front wheel of William Bonnet (FDJ), bringing the latter down hard.

Other riders crashed as a result, amongst them the best young rider Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) and Laurens Ten Dam (LottoNL-Jumbo).

Dumoulin was forced to withdraw from the race but Ten Dam was able to continue, despite a dislocated shoulder.

Cancellara’s withdrawal after the stage was the biggest news, though, given that he had been in the yellow jersey when he crashed.

“It was on a slight downhill, and I saw the crash happening on the right side and I was hoping I could sneak between the riders in the field, but there was a drainage gutter and in the end I got hit from the back, and hit this drain thing and I don’t even know what happened after that,” he said, giving his immediate reaction prior to medical scans.

Once those scans were carried out the team’s worst fears were confirmed. It announced he had suffered a near-identical injury to that which he sustained in the E3 Harelbeke last March.

On that occasion he also suffered two transverse process fractures in vertebral bones of the lower back. The earlier crash damaged the L2 and L3 vertebrae on the left side; on this occasion the L3 and L4 were those affected.

“This is incredibly disappointing for me,” said Cancellara. “The team was on a high with the yellow jersey and were very motivated to defend it. We have had a lot of crashes and injuries since the start of the season, and we finally had a great 24 hours but now it’s back to bad luck. One day you win, one day you lose.”

The team had told CyclingTips prior to the start that Tuesday’s fourth stage was a major target for Cancellara and that he would then switch to helping GC rider Bauke Mollema.

Both of those goals have now unfortunately unravelled.

Dumoulin had also started the stage wearing a distinctive jersey, namely the while jersey of best young rider. He was third overall, just six seconds back, and many believed he had a chance of taking over the yellow jersey on the Mur de Huy.

Instead, he ended his race in an ambulance.

“It was nervous all day and with 60km to the finish a rider in front of me went down. I tried to pass him on the right side, but I was hit by one of the riders next to me and crashed headfirst,” he said, a statement similar to that of Cancellara. “I slid into the grass and immediately knew that it was wrong.

“I am very sad that what should have been a beautiful day became a disaster.”

Team physician Stephan Jacolino said afterwards that the rider had suffered what he termed an impression fracture in his glenohumeral joint. The impact dislocated his shoulder, although the medical team immediately put it back into place.

Debate over wisdom of decision

The immediate aftermath of the crash was a confusing one, not just for the riders involved but also those in the bunch. The race organisers told the peloton that the race was neutralised; they rolled along at a reduced speed for several kilometres, then were brought to a complete stop.

Tour de France 2015 - stage 3

Cancellara and others were able to rejoin and, after several minutes, the race got moving again.

The neutralisation is an extremely rare one in the sport and some were not happy. Team Sky tried to ramp up the speed in the initial confusion, but were brought to heel by the organisers. Etixx-QuickStep general manager Patrick Lefevere expressed his annoyance with a number of tweets.

However, reports from the race suggested there may have been a very valid reason for the course of action.

Chief doctor Florence Pommerie told CyclingTips that the neutralisation was carried out for safety considerations.

“It is because we don’t have for the sort of accidents so many people to evacuate. So you need an ambulance to go to the hospital, you don’t have enough ambulances,” she said.

“There is just one bed in each ambulance, it is not a bus. So of course this is normal, a very good decision.”

The danger was that if the race had continued without the pause in action, that any subsequent crash could have resulted in a very dangerous situation for those involved.

Cancellara said after the stage that he agreed with the call.

“Thank you to the race organization to neutralize it. When you see so many people on the ground…it was the right thing to do.”

‘For now it was definitely the right decision’

Speaking to CyclingTips after the race, riders and directeur sportifs said they agreed.

“I think its always a good thing that they neutralise the race after a bad crash,” said Dumoulin’s Giant-Alpecin team-mate Koen de Kort. “It shouldn’t have an influence on the race result. It’s obviously a bit dangerous [as a precedent]…when are you going to stop the race next time? How many guys need to crash before you neutralise it?

Lotto-Soudal's Greg Henderson was particularly cut up
Lotto-Soudal’s Greg Henderson was particularly cut up

“For now it was defiantly the right decision, especially if it was the case that there was not enough ambulances. We can’t race without ambulances being there, they could potentially save a life.”

MTN-Qhubeka’s Jacques Janse van Rensburg said that he didn’t agree with the efforts by some teams to keep the racing going after the organisers first indicated that they wanted a neutralisation.

“I think the adrenaline was really high and everyone was racing. It is absolutely crazy the risks that the guys take,” he stated. “That was like 60 kilometres from the finish, so I don’t understand why everyone has to take so much risks. It is not the end of the world.

“Guys don’t care for the safety…no one cares about each other’s safety in the race. Eventually, luckily they got to stop the race.

“The organisers were definitely right. It was two huge crashes right after each other. It was just a really dangerous situation, so it was the best thing to stop the race.”

Orica-GreenEdge directeur sportif Matt White said that he was 100 percent behind the decision. When asked why Monday’s situation led to a neutralisation whereas a vast number of races in the past didn’t have the same course of action, he said it was the UCI’s call.

“That is up to the commissaires. It is up to the discretion of them,” he said. “Every crash has to be taken on merit, doesn’t it? It is not something that can be a black and white. It is simple as that.”