Today's stage was scheduled to go from the flat lands in central France to the summit of Mount Ventoux, an enormous shield volcano that rises up at an average gradient approaching 10% for about twelve miles. The Tour frequently uses the mountain for a stage in the middle of the three weeks to give the general classification boys an opportunity to strut their stuff between the Pyrenees and the Alps. The stage was shortened today because of 60 mph winds at the summit of the peak, which rises above timberline. The top three miles of the road were chopped off and the finish line was installed at timberline. All of the drunken Frenchmen, and many other nationalities save the Welsh, who were partying for the past three days above timberline were forced to descend to the new finish line where they were packed in like sardines. It was a prescription for disaster.
A group of three riders who were not in contention for the overall win were up the road beating each other up in what should have been a fabulous finish. The larger group of riders containing all of the contenders for the yellow jersey was several minutes back, waiting to see who might be willing to launch an attack against current leader and yellow jersey wearer Chris Froome. As the day's Belgian winner was crossing the finish line with a well deserved victory a three man group consisting of Froome, Bauke Mollema and Richie Porte had separated themselves from the peloton and were thrashing their way through the crowds towards the finish line, in hope of picking up valuable time on those they had just dropped. That is when it happened.
Cycling fans have unprecedented access to the cyclists while the race is taking place. Barriers are erected only in the last kilometer or two prior to the finish line. Outside of those barriers the fans are permitted to stand in the middle of the roadway and pretty much do anything they want to do to the racers. It is not unusual for riders to be punched, pushed, spat upon and generally abused by throngs of drunken fans seeking their personal moment of glory. Most of the fans are there for only one reason...to take selfies of themselves (is that a redundancy?) with the best bike riders in the world in the background. Already this year I have seen several cyclists smash into fans standing in the middle of the road with their eyes glued to their PEDs (personal electronic devices). Today's stage was complicated by the fact that thousands of fans had descended the mountain and were covering the roadway like ants on a trash pile when the riders arrived.
As Porte, Mollema and Froome were accelerating away from the other contenders they suddenly found themselves enmeshed in a mass of drunken slobs with no room to ride. The motorcycle assigned to the task of clearing a narrow pathway through the crowd suddenly slammed on its brakes to avoid crashing into some of the arrogant jerks blocking the road and Froome, Mollema and Porte all crashed into the back of the motorcycle. Go here for video of the crash. By the time they were able to get up from the pavement, find their bikes and continue onward they had lost precious seconds of time and the group that was behind them had passed them and gained time on them at the finish line. Most of the riders, including those who gained time, crossed the finish line shaking their heads in disgust at what had just happened. It threw the entire race into chaos as nobody knew how the race judges would determine the general classification standings. Initially defending champion Froome was dropped all the way to 6th place but the powers that be eventually came to their senses and assigned finishing times to all riders at the time of the crash. That put Froome back into yellow and the other riders chasing him into their proper positions as well.
Professional cycling events need help. Allowing drunken and selfish fans onto the course is a stupid and dangerous practice. I recognize that it is impossible to keep people off a course that often spans over 100 miles in length but fans tend to congregate in specific places along the roadway,thus making it possible for someone to control them. Since the race organizers seem unable to keep fans off the road, I think the riders themselves should be authorized to perform that task. Traditionally if a rider strikes a fan, which happens fairly often, and is seen doing so, he will be fined or lose time. That is unfair and endangers the careers of the riders. With that in mind I offer up the Welshman's Rules of Gentlemanly Conduct for Professional Cyclists:
- No rider shall ever be punished for anything that he does to a fan who is standing in the cyclist's path.
- Fans come to professional cycling events at their own risk. Any injuries or death to fans that occur on the roadway shall be deemed the fault of the fans regardless of the circumstances.
- Riders shall be permitted to punch, kick, yell at, spit upon and generally abuse any fan found in the roadway.
- Cyclists shall be permitted to place spikes, barbs, machetes, spears and other pointy devices on their bicycles when entering an area where fans are likely to be found upon the road. Anything that happens after that point is never the fault of the cyclists.
- In the Grand Tours (France, Spain and Italy) a new jersey shall be designated for the cyclist who can injure, maim or kill the most drunken and unruly fans. It shall be called the Red Jersey.
- When cyclists team up to chase down fans on the roadway no time penalty shall be assigned to any of the cyclists if they are involved in the process of holding fans while other cyclists beat them up.