Too late to neutralize: crash leaves just six in stage contention at Simac Ladies Tour

The crash occurred outside the 3 km rule and a neutralization would have caused additional chaos.

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A bunch sprint seemed inevitable in stage three of the Simac Ladies Tour. After a post-Olympic period in which the peloton mis-timed three breakaway chases and lost out on three potential bunch sprints, the flat finale finally looked good for the sprinters. That was until the vast majority of the peloton either hit the ground or swerved into the grass on the side of the road.

Approaching the finish, the peloton navigated a narrow road that twisted through the Dutch landscape. SD Worx kept the pace high and the peloton was close together. At 5.9 km to go Lorena Wiebes wheel slid off the side of the asphalt and into the dirt. The drop was enough to take down the Team DSM sprinter, the first domino in a crash that held up all but half a dozen riders.

Wiebes was sitting just inside the top ten of the peloton when she fell, and she fell into the road causing the riders behind her to scatter. Trek-Segafredo had a few riders hit the ground, some of them veering into the dirt on the riders left. Movistar’s Emma Norsgaard fell hard, as did many of her teammates. Christine Majerus, who won the overall of the tour in 2019, pulled a ninja move to avoid hitting the pavement.

It was complete chaos.

“It was narrow and the road was not straight everywhere,” said Demi Vollering of SD Worx. “If you sit on the side, you will fall down. And then also that strange road, with rain on it…that made for a chaotic race. It went just fine all day, you have to wait until things go wrong.”

At the front of the race, only six riders remained unscathed. Four SD Worx had been on the front when the crash went down and two Team DSM riders who had been in front of Wiebes. With bikes and humans blocking the road there was nowhere for anyone lucky enough to avoid crash to get around the carnage.

Should the race have been neutralized?

The question of whether or not the six out front should have sat up, or been forced to sit up, is a complicated one. The same crash 5km from the start, rather than the finish, would have a different answer.

With only 5 km left the race is on, it’s nearly over. Of course SD Worx, with the numbers and their general classification rider upfront, would want to charge to the finish. There’s no magic kilometer mark where if a crash happens the race is neutralized. The rule is unwritten. Part of winning a bike race is being in the right place at the right time.

A neutralization with very little road left to race would have been another level of chaos entirely. Imagine that scenario: by the time motos got to the front six and got them to stop there would only be 4 km left in the race, maybe less. Upon restart, the race would go from 0 to 100 on dangerous roads with a 90-degree corner in the final couple hundred meters of the race. A pause to the race to regroup might not have been the best call.

Still, a crash with such a substantial impact on the peloton isn’t seen very often. The sporting ethics behind continuing to race when 90% of the peloton is down and out is a reasonable thing to worry about. But the reason the peloton was at full tilt and the reason SD Worx had lined up at the front was because it was time to race.

Regardless of whether or not the women in front should have kept racing no one ever likes to see the riders down. Some teams had their full roster on the ground.

“I hope everyone is okay, but at the time we were riding as a team. Then you only go after the finish to see how things are going. Our luck was that we were in the front with a lot of riders,” said the stage winner Lonneke Uneken of SD Worx.

For a lot of the peloton, there was no space to avoid the crash, the options were crash or stop. There was no road left to ride on.

“It was really hectic, everybody wanted to be in the front to not crash, then everybody crashed,” said the race leader Marlen Reusser. “I was a bit later than the crash so I just went off my bike a little bit, I touched the gravel a little bit but I didn’t crash.”

The top of the overall GC was not massively affected, though there was plenty of shuffling in the lower places. Reusser still leads. A few hours after the race ended there is still limited information about the condition of a lot of the riders who went down. Tomorrow’s stage is a lumpy circuit but could again end in a slightly reduced sprint, hopefully one with the right sort of drama.

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