A race like the Tour de France, one of the pinnacles of professional cycling, requires incredible levels of fitness, close teamwork and of course a great team behind the scenes. All of these requirements demand a serious amount of dedication from the riders and everyone involved. Hundreds of hours on the bike encompassing sprint training, altitude training and motor-pacing are just a few aspects of a training schedule which will demand absolutely everything from the riders – and probably a bit more besides. Nevertheless, not a single person involved can foresee some of the hazards that the riders will face during a typical race. Over the years we’ve seen stray spectators, troublesome bollards and even a range of animals cause issues for the peloton.
The incident which had us talking about this topic in the office recently was the major crash during Stage 1 of this years Tour de France:
Although a little difficult to catch at full speed, the slow motion replay shows an unsuspecting spectator who is slightly too close to the action. One small knock and the peloton is quickly brought to a halt. As you can see, all it takes is one daydreaming spectator to drift into the road to cause a spectacular crash.
However, there’s been some far more unusual incidents over the years and we thought we’d compile a list for your enjoyment.
This is Gerald Ciolek of Germany who had his arm inadvertently hit by a fan during the final sprint. Despite the knock, Ciolek was just about able to keep his balance and prevent a huge crash at the finish line.
Armstrong not amused by the musette.
Here’s a famous incident from the 2003 Tour de France where Armstrong’s bike is caught up in what appears to be a souvenir musette bag of a young spectator. Getting back on the bike, Armstrong was able to rejoin the race and get back in contention as Ullrich waited for Armstrong just as Armstrong had waited for Ullrich earlier on. It’s certainly unusual to see this kind of cycling etiquette in more recent times, recalling the battles of Contador and Schleck where the racing was slightly more ruthless!
A bumbling photographer who manages to find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time at the end of the 2003 Ghent-Wevelgem. Although all the riders cross the line successfully, Tom Boonen is unable to navigate around the swarm of photographers eager to catch the perfect victory snap. Hitting the photographer, Boonen is sent straight over the bars. Funnily enough, the photographers show little remorse and are quickly snapping away at the incident they’d just managed to cause.
Protect and serve?
In one of the most famous crashes from the 1994 Tour de France, the policeman in this video appears to be doing his best to prevent spectators from pushing forward. In actual fact, he’s too close to the riders himself and ends up causing a catastrophic crash with Belgian rider Wilfried Nelissen being the first rider to impact. There’s been some disagreement around this incident as many believe he may have hit the barrier anyway, even if the policeman had not been stood where he was. Others suggest the policeman was standing outside of his predetermined ‘hole’ in the barrier and was therefore asking for trouble. Take a look for yourself and see what your take on the accident is. However, be warned: there’s quite a bit of blood if you’re the squeamish type. Most of the riders made a full recovery although Nelissen compounded this incident by further injuring his knee in 1996, which eventually ended his career in 1998.
Barriers and bollards.
This first video features everybody’s favourite Italian, Mario Cipollini, getting seriously intimate with some of the barriers at the side of the road during the Vuelta a Espana. While the crash certainly took it out of him, he was quickly back on his bike and competing once again. With all that testosterone there was never really going to be any other outcome.
Cipollini always has something to say about the professional peloton, recently suggesting that there wasn’t enough masculinity in cycling. He even stated that Contador has the ‘anonymous face of a surveyor or an accountant’. This crash certainly didn’t bruise his ego then…
Next, here’s Frank Schleck’s dramatic crash during the Tour de Suisse, where Schleck loses control and ends up toppling over a barrier and down a ravine. Despite the crash, Schleck wasn’t seriously hurt and was back on the bike in no time.
Cows in the peloton.
Among the more unusual participants in a road race, these cows sent the peloton into disarray during Stage 6 of the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré. Considering their size, it’s not even that easy to navigate around them – as several riders discovered when they were ambushed by the herd.
A horse of course.
In this incredible (although poor quality) footage, a horse in a field at the side of the road during one of the stages of the Tour de France decides to take part.
This isn’t the only time that animals of the equine variety have decided to get involved either. One of the strangest encounters with a four-legged friend was during Ghent-Wevelgem in 2000. Team Telekom sprinter Erik Zabel was in a chase group that was 40 seconds behind with around 25 kilometres left to race. A black horse was galloping in the field alongside the peloton when it decided to run out onto the road. It went straight for Zabel and knocked him into a ditch at the side of the road.
At the time, Telekom director Walter Godefroot said he knew Zabel wasn’t hurt when he emerged from the ditch “cursing like a sailor”. Zabel ended up with a bruised thigh and scraped elbow, but went on to finish the race.
Here’s two videos showcasing two like-minded dogs who decided to get themselves involved in the 2007 Tour de France. What the chances are of two of these incidents occurring in the same race we’re not entirely sure. Nevertheless, there’s very little the riders could do to avoid a crash in both of these situations. While leads may not have been invented primarily to stop dogs from venturing into the middle of a road race, for future reference, they do the job rather well!
The domino effect.
While there’s dogs, cows, stray spectators and a whole host of other factors which can prove hazardous during a race, a riders fellow competitors are usually the most likely to cause a significant crash. Being in such close proximity to one another, a small mistake can often cause the domino effect to take hold, as the video below from the 2007 Tour de France demonstrates so aptly.