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In a race that has already seen the drama, comedy and unexpected turns worthy of an epic piece of theatre, last night's stage saw an element of farce thrown into the proceedings.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Cycling Central
15 Jul 2016 - 4:15 AM  UPDATED 15 Jul 2016 - 7:51 AM

With under two kilometres remaining in the race, the trio of Richie Porte (BMC), Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and race-leader Chris Froome (Sky) were riding hard to put as much time as possible into their rivals, only to run into the back of a television camera motorbike, held up by the massive crowd on Mont Ventoux.

Porte went face first into the back of the abruptly stopped machine, with almost no chance to react to the sudden roadblock. Mollema and Froome followed, with Porte left to perform quick mechanical repairs and get back on the road. Froome had a following motorbike run over his bike, having to lay it aside and in a panicked state, began to run up the road.

Are we watching the greatest bike race in the world? What other sport takes out its top stars in this way during a moment of peak effort, reducing their best athlete, the most recognisable face of the race, to a parody of an elite sportsman?

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Moto mayehm

The incident with the motorbike is yet another in a string of incidents hazardous to riders, and at the Tour the intrusion of the crowd can at times be too close, not only for comfort but also for safety. The UCI rule 2.2.072 states “Cameramen shall film in profile or 3/4 rear view. They may not film as they overtake the bunch unless the road is wide enough. In the mountains and on climbs, filming shall be carried out from behind.

It is time that there is a much harder line taken by the UCI in policing these rules, particularly in races where there is potential for massive crowds on the sides of the road. Surely it makes sense for the motos to not be an accident waiting to happen, riding so close to the peloton, that they have no margin to avoid an incident.

This tweet from Froome shows the potential for carnage in the event of an accident.

Fans in a frenzy

The other half of the equation are the fans, the majority of whom provide a lot of colour and immeasurably add to the spectacle of the Tour. The minority that seem intent on getting themselves on camera for as long as possible are the problem, a problem that hasn’t yet seen a solution despite the increased presence of gendarmes along the route.

Short of a complete ban on roadside spectators, there doesn’t appear to be a clear solution, I’m not convinced penalties for the behaviour we see will be an effective deterrent. Very few people deliberately attempt to obstruct the riders, it's just ignorance in fully appreciating the dangers of dumb roadside behaviour.

Perhaps, with the passing Tour caravan, some education can be provided as well as free sponsored paraphernalia to the often inexperienced cycling watchers on the roadside.

Added to the mayhem was the particular circumstances of the stage, with the reduction of the final ascent after strong winds rendered the exposed section of Mont Ventoux too dangerous to ride. The finishing barriers appeared to begin later than they normally would and perhaps the late shortening of the race route affected the amount of fencing available.

What is 'fair'?

What are the race officials to make of this mess at the end? Do you nullify the whole stage or let the results stand? Do you follow the Yates precedent (established in Stage 5 when the collapsing flame rouge took out the Orica-BikeExchange rider when he had a seven second gap on his rivals)?

The UCI rules governing race incidents (2.2.029) grant broad powers and discretion to the race officials in coming up with a solution. “In case of an accident or incident that could impinge upon the normal conduct of a race in general or a particular stage thereof, race director may, after obtaining the agreement of the commissaires' panel and having informed the timekeepers, at any moment, decide:

- to modify the course,

- to temporarily neutralise the race or stage,

- to declare a stage null and void,

- to cancel part of a stage as well as the results of any possible intermediate classifications and to restart the stage near the place of the incident,

- to let the results stand or

- to restart the race or stage, taking account of the gaps recorded at the moment of the incident.”

It’s an unenviable task, trying to extract a sensible outcome from the confusion. It would be tempting to say none of it counted, nullify the time for the general classification and leave it at that. Attempting to rationalise any decision to grant an artificial result is going to be nigh on impossible. Let's put the whole sorry affair to bed, learn from it without the spectre of worrying about who's gaining or losing time to affect people's opinions.

Others will say that the ‘fairest’ thing to do is to do what the race organisers ended up doing, giving Froome and Porte the time of the least affected rider of the three, Bauke Mollema.

More questions than answers

The question remains, what does that do to the integrity of the race? Did it matter that Froome went into a panic, running up the hill after abandoning his bike, climbing on possibly the worst neutral support bike possible and then a third bike in the space of less than a kilometre?

Is it fair on Mollema, who picked himself up quickly and remounted to stay ahead of the rest of the contenders into the finish? He is in the position where he can effectively no longer race against Froome and Porte, and indeed he helped them gain time on everyone else. No wonder he was frustrated post-race after his best performance of the Tour.

What was interesting was that the Yates’s precedent wasn’t invoked. That involved the time gaps at the crash being translated to the finish, which would have certainly given more time to the unlucky trio. Of course, that solution has its own raft of problems. How do you get accurate time checks in the midst of all the chaos and does it have the effect of artificially shortening the race unfairly to those who had saved energy behind for one final push to the line?

The Tour de France and the UCI will have to answer some hard questions before the Tour descends into a spectacle where the ridiculous trumps the dignity and integrity of the race.