Crashes in the Tour de France

A follow up to questions on the Tour de France. I’ve been watching the Tour de France with various family members whose knowledge of the Tour ranges from the very limited to the non-existent. If you’re watching a sport like rugby – it can be frustrating to get asked questions right in the middle of the action, but with the tour, there’s at least usually plenty of time.

Why are there so Many Crashes?

There are frequently crashes in the tour. You have 180 riders jostling for position and riders close behind each other. A slight lapse of concentration and you can touch wheels and bring each other down.

However, this year, there has been one of the highest rates of crashes ever due to:

  • Riding on small narrow roads where there is greater competition for places.
  • Some unfortunate accidents between vehicles and riders with either vehicles or riders taking down riders. Also spectators getting in the way.
  • Rain. Obviously when it is wet, you are more likely to come down.
  • Very competitive race. Without any time trial to give favourites a solid advantage, there have been many people fighting for top spot, this means there are more people fighting for position.

Riders will be hoping that it is not extremely hot in the Alps, as when the road surface is very hot, the tarmac can actually start to melt making the roads slippy. Melting road surface was blamed for the horrific crash  in 2003 which brought down Joseba Beloki (when Armstrong famously bunny hoped over field to rejoin race) Beloki was in 2nd place and the crash effectively ended his career.) More famous crashes from Tour

Why Do they Race on small narrow roads?

You might like to ask the director of the tour. Though last year they raced on the cobbled roads used in Paris-Roubaix. The directors will probably be glad, they don’t have a stage of more cobbled madness, given all the crashes this year.

Other questions which arose after watching tour with family members.

Do they stop for lunch?

No, not unless they get very hungry and see a nice cafe. Though in the old fashioned 12 hour time trials, which were very popular in 50s and 60s, I believe there was a scheduled lunch stop where riders would take a break and have a nice snack by side of the road – a very civilised kind of race, but not quite as competitive as the tour.

Seriously, they will be eating on move through energy drinks and energy bars. In every stage, there will be a ‘feed station’ riders pick up a small bag on the move. In these bags there will be a few high energy snacks – perhaps banana sandwich and energy bars.

Why do the Breakaways always get caught so close to the line?

They don’t always get caught. Though in the first week of racing, they invariably do get caught. The reason is that sprinters teams will work hard to bring the breakaways back together so that their sprinter has a chance of winning.

If you’ve been in a breakaway for 200Km, you will have used much more energy than someone resting in the bunch (saving upto 30% of their effort by benefitting from slipstream of other riders.

Sprinters team will be making calculations to try and catch the break without about 10Km to go. If they bring it back too early, there is a chance there will be another breakaway in last part of race, so they will have to work even harder. They will try to use minimal effort to bring breakaway back. If they leave it to the last few KM, they are more likely to get help from other teams (e.g. team of yellow jersey)

Why not breakaway in last 4Km?

Occasionally riders make a breakaway in last few Km and succeed, but it is very difficult unless you get some good luck like a crash in main field or very narrow roads. In the last 4KM, the pace will be kept very high, you almost have to be sprinting to keep up. For the final sprint, the peleton may be moving at 40-50mph. You can’t maintain this pace time trialling on your own, so you need a big gap to hold off the sprinters.


photo: stijnvogels Flickr CC

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