PONTIVY, FRANCE (REUTERS, AFP) - A string of heavy crashes reduced the Tour de France peloton to a heap of wounded bodies on Monday (June 28), as a leading sports director called for greater safety at the world's greatest cycling race.
Two days after a spectator holding a cardboard sign and looking the other way sent Tony Martin and a large section of the peloton tumbling to the deck, Geraint Thomas and Primoz Roglic and others took more tumbles in separate incidents involving no fans at all.
On the seafront at the Plage de Testel, 2018 champion Thomas lost his concentration and hit the ground so hard he dislocated a shoulder before making it back to the peloton with the help of three teammates. Scenes of the Welshman shaking his legs when having his shoulder put back in by medics will live long in the memory.
Slovenia's Roglic then hit the tarmac hip-first with 10km to go and while shaken he also limited his losses with the help of teammates.
But it was two more pile-ups in a nerve-wracking finale on rain-slick, narrow roads that were the main cause for concern in the peloton.
On a left-hand curve with 4km left in the 182.9km stage from Lorient, a massive crash took down among others France's Arnaud Demare and Bahrain Victorious team leader Jack Haig, who was forced to abandon the race.
The worst fall came in the home straight with Caleb Ewan hitting Belgian stage winner Tim Merlier's back wheel at over 80kmh and taking Slovak sprint specialist Peter Sagan down with him, the pair sliding for tens of metres on the tarmac.
It left the Australian with a broken collarbone and he was also forced him out of the race.
The two late incidents triggered an angry reaction from Demare's Groupama FDJ team manager Marc Madiot.
"I am a father. There are many families who watch the Tour de France on television. There are many children who watch the Tour de France. There are many mothers who watch the Tour de France on television," he said.
"Well, tonight, I don't want my kid to be a professional cyclist, my wife doesn't want my kid to ride a bike, and many families don't want their kids to ride a bike after what we have seen today.
"We've been talking about this for years, but now we have to find solutions. We can't go on like this, it's not cycling anymore. The bend with 150 metres to go... What state is Caleb Ewan in? And the others? So we have to change, we have to be able to say that it's not working anymore."
Madiot listed things that could change to make it safer for the cyclists as they ride along, with constant team orders coming through their earpieces, sometimes on dangerous roads and on light, fragile bikes.
"Maybe we need to adapt the equipment, maybe we need to remove the earpieces, maybe we need to do a lot of things. But it has to be done. If we don't change anything, we'll have deaths," he explained.
A leading sports director who has taken part in several editions of the Tour lashed out at the organisers for the way they designed the stage's finale through narrow, winding roads.
"Unbelievable to send riders on such roads in the last 20 kilometres. It's a circus. Clearly they don't care about the riders' health," the sports director, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
Yellow jersey wearer Mathieu Van der Poel cut a dour figure compared to the tear-filled elation he experienced after winning Sunday's stage two.
"It was a very fast, technical run-in with all the general classification guys racing for their places, it's difficult to say anything now," he said. "It's a big race, (in the) overall standings guys fighting against sprinters, for sure it's a dangerous sport."
"That wasn't a nice day, some rivals lost time but you don't want to see that," said Pogacar.
Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe, winner of the first stage, had to swerve to avoid Ewan and Sagan in the run-in.
"That was a mentally shattering day, I'm glad it's over," he said.
Tour de France organisers were not available for comment.
As for the mystery woman in yellow who caused the first crash on day one with her sign held up in front of the pack, French authorities are still actively looking for her, a high-ranking gendarme told AFP on Monday.
"We don't know who she is, if she's German or Franco-German or whatever. But don't worry we'll find her," the gendarme said. "She isn't at risk of much more than a fine, the ASO (race organisers) are making this move more as a warning to fans on the roadside."
On Sunday, Tour organisers Amaury Sport Organisation had said they were suing the spectator who caused the incident.
International Cycling Union (UCI) president David Lappartient, who followed the stage in an official organisers' car, said the roads were in good shape and not too narrow.
He said the stakes of riding in the Tour de France made the whole peloton more nervous and error-prone.