BASTIA, France (VN) — One bus and a bad decision added to the opening-day chaos at the Tour de France on Saturday in Corsica.
“It’s a little upsetting to me that that happened,” said Garmin-Sharp’s general manager, Jonathan Vaughters. “It could have fundamentally changed the entire course.”
As the riders raced ahead with 10km remaining for the sprint win and yellow jersey, TV footage showed the Orica-GreenEdge bus stuck under the finish-line arch. Driver Garikoitz Atxa and Tour officials hurriedly tried to let the air out of the tires so it could pass under.
With the bus still jammed, race organizers Amaury Sport Organisation and jury president Vicente Tortajada Villarroya decided to move the finish to 3km out. However, after riders covered another few kilometers, ASO moved the finish back to its original location.
Workers were able to push the bus back and off the course to the right, clearing the passage, but it was close and the indecision caused chaos. Between the decisions, a wave of riders crashed on the left side of the road, among them Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff).
“What caused the problems was changing the finish,” said Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), who was sidelined by a crash but did not fall.
“Like, we heard on the radio with literally 5K to go that the sprint was in 2K and then a K later, they were like, ‘No, it’s at the finish.’ It’s just carnage.”
Just too high
The Orica bus appeared too high to clear the arch, but that was because the vehicle arrived after workers had lowered it. All the buses and race caravan had to drive on the route as Corsica allows few off-course options. As a result, some arrived in the final moments.
“The bus had permission to go to the finish line, but he was ordered to stop at the finish line due to the 4-meter rule [on the arch],” Jean-Louis Pagès, head of stage finishes, said on TV. “He shouldn’t have gone further. He was told to stop and ask for authorization.”
Orica general manager Shayne Bannan said he hadn’t spoken yet to his driver, adding that he believed Axta “was directed to go a certain way and unfortunately the bus was too high for the finish entry.”
“The main thing was that the race wasn’t actually disrupted,” he said. “The first concern was safety of all the guys.”
Team boss criticizes organizer
FDJ’s general manager, Marc Madiot, criticized ASO’s back and forth on the finish-line issue.
“At first there is no problem. The commissaires decide that the line has to be moved to the 3-kilometer banner so we inform our riders,” Madiot told France 2 TV.
“Two kilometers later, we are told that the finish will be at its original place. But in these circumstances, you don’t change plans. Some teams had launched sprints; the riders were already taking risk.
“The president of the commissaires [Tortajada Villarroya] didn’t do his job. When we [managers, riders] make a mistake, we get a fine. Well, he should get a huge fine.”
As it turned out, it was Orica-GreenEdge that got the fine — 2,000 Swiss francs ($2,116) for “not respecting the timetable put in place for auxiliary team vehicles arriving at the stage finish.”