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Thirteen days ago, the 2016 Tour de France began in Normandy, with the first stage finishing at Utah Beach, site of the deadly D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.
Following the podium celebration, a moment of silence was observed, the national champions of France and Germany symbolically clasping hands, not only in remembrance of those who died protecting the freedom of the Allied nations but in the repaired relationships between neighboring nations once at war.
On Friday in Caverne du Pont d’Arc, another moment of silence was observed, this time a tribute to the victims of Thursday night’s horrific attack in Nice; an attack purposefully timed during France’s Fete Nationale, a day set aside to commemorate the French Revolution — a day to celebrate freedom.
This moment of silence was held just after the podium presentation, with all four jersey wearers, plus stage winner Tom Dumoulin, on center stage, hats and hands by their sides.
Security at this Tour is a real issue — particularly after the attacks at Stade de France in November — with an additional 23,000 French police, including special intervention squads, deployed to year’s race. Bags are checked when entering secure areas, which are patrolled by police with machine guns.
Yet as Thursday’s chaotic scene at Chalet Reynard demonstrated, it’s nearly impossible to maintain order on the roadside.
Prior to Friday’s stage, race director Christian Prudhomme issued a short statement. “It’s a day of mourning for France and for the Tour de France,” he said. “We know Nice very well. Every year in March we organize Paris-Nice. We’ve had an emergency meeting with the prefect of the Ardèche, the police forces, the gendarmerie, representatives of the Groupe d’intervention de la Gendarmerie nationale (GIGN) in connection with the highest state authorities. Today’s stage in the Ardèche will be contested.
“Our thoughts are with the bereaved families,” he continued. “We extend our condolences to everyone affected by the tragedy. We wondered about having a race today or not. But in agreement with the state authorities, we believe that the race must go on and we shouldn’t give in to the pressure of the people who would like us to change our lifestyle. The Tour de France will go on in sobriety and dignity.”
The race did go on, with heavy hearts. The publicity caravan, ordinarily blasting music and marketing messages, was silenced. Australian Adam Hansen decorated his race bib with the word “Nice” and hearts drawn around his race number. ASO race staff wore black arm bands.
After the stage, there was no celebrating. Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) and race leader Chris Froome (Sky) were both quick to comment that what had happened a few hours to the south completely overshadowed what had happened on the race course.
“On one side, I’m a very happy man, but on another side, I’m a very, very sad man,” Dumoulin said. “It’s a very sad day. I woke up to the terrible news from Nice. I think it was a very just question, whether we should race or not today. At the end, I think it was a just decision to race. I think we cannot let the terrorists decide our lives, here in our society. It’s terrible, what happened, and it shadows the day. Of course I’m happy with the win, it’s what I came for at this Tour de France, but of course my thoughts are with everyone involved in the horrific attacks in Nice.”
At his post-race press conference, Froome declined any questions about the race, instead only offering his condolences.
“I think it’s pretty clear today that everyone’s thoughts are with those affected down in Nice,” he said. “I think it’s difficult for us to even be here talking about the race when all that was happening yesterday evening down in Nice, somewhere obviously that’s pretty close to home for me. I do a lot of training on those roads and to see the Promenade [des Anglais] the way it was yesterday evening, bodies all over the road … It’s just horrific, horrific scenes. Really, my deepest sympathies, my deepest condolences go out to those families who have lost loved ones yesterday evening in Nice.”
World champion and green jersey wearer Peter Sagan shared a similar sentiment. “For me it was a normal day on the bike, like every day, but I feel very sad for the people who lost their loved ones. I’m fortunate that nobody in my family was in Nice last night. We live in Monaco, and it’s very near. At least I’m happy that we, at the Tour de France, have showed some respect for the people who died. It’ll remain in our minds.”