Fifteen seconds in Vittel: A short drama based on a true story
There is chaos and weirdness and melodrama, and then there is what happened at the end of Stage 4 of the Tour de France. A mostly boring stage experienced an impactful turn of events in the last 300 meters, yielding the defining moment of the event’s first week — a high-speed crash that sent Mark Cavendish to the tarmac with a race-ending broken shoulder and controversially got reigning World Champion Peter Sagan an ejection from the Tour. Here, based on a close examination of video evidence and some healthy creative license, contributor Peter Flax imagines a sort of oral history of those final 300 meters to the finish line in Vittel.
Andre: Three hundred meters to go. Not quite time. Jurgen is pulling nicely.
Jurgen: This feels so horrible. I wish someone would come around me and start this thing.
Mark: Patience, Manxman, patience.
Arnaud: Not yet. It is not quite time to show my panache.
Peter: Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.
Nacer: Soon, champ, soon.
Alexander: Now! It is time to take over this puny 207-kilometer bike race.
Andre: That dude is always impatient in short races. Whatever — it’s on!
Alexander: Legs feel good. I’ll show everyone I’m not too heavy.
Jurgen: Thank god I can pull off now.
Arnaud: Interesting — the whole right side of the road is wide open.
Mark: That looks like the wheel to grab today.
Peter: Ooh, Demare looks strong. I should get that wheel.
Nacer: Why is everyone going right? If Arnaud chops me again, I’m going to need extra time with the heavy bag tonight.
Andre: If Nacer thinks he’s going to get Alexander’s wheel, he’s got something coming. Why can’t these guys just hold a line?
Alexander: I think I might have hit this too soon.
Arnaud: Still more room right. Let’s do this for the forlorn French masses.
Mark: This is great. I’ve got this wheel and there’s still tons of room.
Peter: I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floatin’ around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s both.
Alexander: Crap, that erratic French guy put his helmet on me and took my wheel.
Arnaud: Now there’s no way anyone can pass along the barriers. Go time.
Mark: There’s still tons of room.
Peter: Arnaud just nudged left. He’s gonna drag me to a win.
Mark: Man, I hope Peter slides left a bit, too. I think there’s still room.
Arnaud: Let me tuck in behind this husky Katusha guy for a sec and then win this thing.
Nacer: Wait, now he’s pushing me left? This guy’s going to chop me again. Merde! I will have to bang my handlebar extra hard.
Mark: I still think there’s room.
Peter: Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering. (Pause in internal dialogue. Sensors detect a brake hood in quadrant six and an aero MET helmet on right shoulder. Systems enact four-dimensional evasive action.)
Ben: I really wish I was on the other side of the road.
Mark: Crap. There’s no room. Now I’m going to take us both down.
Silence on the stage as Sagan’s internal gyroscopically based vestibular balance system makes hundreds of minor adjustments, including a reflexively raised right elbow, to avoid crashing into barrier at 70 kilometers per hour.
Mark: Ouch. These barriers hurt like a mother!
John: What he said.
Ben: Why is that green Cervelo…
John:…sliding across the pavement?
Ben: Maybe I can squeeze…oof. Ouch.
John: What he said.
Alexander: What the hell is going on back there? I can’t believe I’m still leading this thing.
Arnaud: I guess I have a lane straight ahead but I feel like going left now. This Katusha guy isn’t going to win but he’s a diesel.
Andre: Now they’re coming back to the center of the road? What a bunch of jokers.
Nacer: How the hell did Peter not go down? Grab that wheel, champ. UCI points are UCI points.
Mark: Rolf is going to go ballistic. I wish that guy would get on Twitter and defend me. That way that elbow that came out as I ran into Peter’s ass at 70 kph along the barrier really pisses me off.
Peter: I wonder who that was. I hope he’s okay. Also, I’m psyched to eat some Haribo.
Andre: I can’t hold this wheel. So frustrating. This is too irregular for my liking.
Mark: The pavement never gets any softer. Argh.
Alexander: Keep driving to the line. With French guys, you never know.
Peter: Beauty is truth, truth beauty — that is all.
Arnaud: This win is all mine. I hope my helmet is on straight. I am so glad nothing will overshadow this great moment.