Sunday, July 10, 2011

Stage 9: Crashes Galore

Just when you think you know what’s coming, the Tour de France drops a big surprise. On Stage 9, the peloton allowed the breakaway not only to win, but to get so far ahead that Frenchman Thomas Voeckler took the yellow jersey. Plus dramatic crashes took out another set of top contenders, and a television car swerved to avoid a tree and hit one rider, sending another flying onto a barbed wire fence.

With seven categorized climbs, the course was suited for riders with good climbing legs and an aggressive style. About 35 kilometers to the finish, the six-man break was down to five, including Juan Antonio Flecha, John Hoogerland, Luis-Leon Sanchez, Thomas Voeckler, and Sandy Casar. On a narrow section of road, a car for French television was a few feet behind these riders. To avoid a large tree, the driver unexpectedly swerved into the cyclists and hit Flecha. The Spaniard crashed, causing Hoogerland to fly off his bike and fall on his back onto a barbed wire fence. The car driver was entirely at fault and should have given the cyclists the right of way. For his outrageous carelessness, the driver will surely be banned from the Tour.

Both Flecha and Hoogerland finished the stage and were awarded the title of most aggressive riders by the judges, also known as the most spirited performance. Hoogerland’s injuries are more severe, and blood poured from the cuts in his legs as he finished the stage. While he took over the lead in the king of the mountains competition by securing points over the course of the day, it is unclear whether he will be able to continue the race. Sanchez won the stage for Team Rabobank. The 27-year-old Spaniard gestured to the sky as he crossed the line, in honor of his older brother who died in a motorbike accident several years ago.

Voeckler in the headlines: 2004
The breakaway included a set of strong riders, while none of the teams in the peloton wanted to take responsibility for pulling them back. At one time, the break had a 7 minute advantage, but in the end, they finished just under 4 minutes ahead. Voeckler was driving hard throughout the day, especially when the gap had opened enough for him to take the yellow jersey. As Phil Liggett said, “Yellow to a Frenchman is like a red rag to a bull.” Voeckler rides for the French team Europcar and launched his career in 2004 when he surprised the world by wearing the yellow jersey for 10 days. He overtook race leader Thor Hushovd, who had also surprised by holding the jersey into the early climbs. Voeckler is likely to hold onto the overall lead until Stage 12 in the Pyrenees, when the race favorites will put the hammer down.

Earlier in the day, a devastating crash at the front of the peloton sent some of the best riders into a ditch and out of the race in an ambulance. At a slight curve on the descent, the road was wet from mist in the air, and because the crash started at the front of the pack, many riders were affected. Astana’s Alexander Vinokourov was carefully helped out of a roadside ditch by his teammates. The 37-year-old has a suspected broken pelvis, requiring him to withdraw from his last Tour de France. The Conan O’Brien look-alike is a feisty competitor, who gave Armstrong a run for his money back in the day and unapologetically returned to cycling after a doping ban.

Also hurt in the crash was Jurgen Van den Broeck, leader of Omega Pharma-Lotto. He was laid out on the road and may have a broken shoulder blade. The 28-year-old finished fifth at the 2010 Tour de France and was shooting for the podium. His departure leaves the Belgian team with only six of nine riders still in the race. Yet fellow Belgian Philippe Gilbert generated some good news, as he captured sprint points to lead the green jersey competition.

American Dave Zabriskie was another to abandon after the big crash. The time trial specialist has been working hard for Garmin-Cervelo, setting the tempo to win the team time trial, launch Tyler Farrar into a stage win, and keep Thor Hushovd in the yellow jersey from Stage 2 to Stage 9. The Los Angeles resident tweeted, “So be it…” He is reportedly already looking forward to the Tour of Colorado in August. Teammates Christian Vande Velde and David Millar crashed as well today, but their injuries were relatively minor.

Before the big crash, three-time champion Alberto Contador hit the ground for the fourth time. Apparently he made contact with Katusha rider Vladimir Karpets. Once again, Contador was not seriously hurt, but these little incidents are happening nearly every day. It raises the question of whether the Spaniard’s form is off or it is a just a string of bad luck. Contador and the other two pre-race favorites, Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans, kept pace with each other. The big three are still in play.

The rest of the best have been turned upside down. Van den Broeck and Vinokourov joined Wiggins, Horner, and Brajkovic at the exit. Leipheimer and Hesjedal have lost too much time. Who is left to compete for the top ten? The new sole team leader of RadioShack, Andreas Kloden, also crashed today but finished in good time. Robert Gesink of Rabobank is injured but hanging in. Ivan Basso and Frank Schleck are well placed, and HTC-Highroad teammates Tony Martin and Peter Velits may quietly bring home solid results.

Tomorrow is a rest day, though the cyclists will ride to keep their bodies in good form. Versus will air a recap of highlights from Week 1 and preview of Week 2. The competition resumes on Tuesday with Stage 10, a 158 kilometer contest from Aurillac to Carmaux featuring mild climbs. The timing and course favor a breakaway, so anything can happen. However, teams such as Hushovd’s Garmin and Gilbert’s Omega Pharma-Lotto may take charge to give their riders the shot at the win. In that case, the heat comes in the last 5K. Stay safe, boys.

Crash Cornucopia:

Stage 9 top finishers:
1. Luis-Leon Sanchez (Rabobank)
2. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar)
3. Sandy Casar (FDJ)
4. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)
5. Peter Velits (HTC-Highroad)

Stage 10 map and profile:


  1. Amy G. in Santa BarbaraJuly 10, 2011 at 6:32 PM

    Thanks, Zina! Great recap of the day's events. I haven't been able to watch any of the tour yet, and I appreciate being brought up to speed here. A shame with all of the crashes, especially Vinokourov and a possible broken pelvis...

  2. do they penalize the rider who caused the crash?

  3. The race judges decide if a rider should be penalized. Riders can be penalized for causing a crash or for breaking rules in place to prevent crashes, among other reasons.