Alberto Contador stood on the wet grass, blood pouring out of a deep cut to his right knee. Photographers swirled around him, the race doctor attended to his injuries. He motioned to his mechanic, a hint of frustration etched across his face. He sat down, dejected, and changed out his left shoe, its buckle smashed to pieces.
He’d just crashed on the descent off the Petit Ballon, just the second of the day’s seven major climbs. Rival Vincenzo Nibali cruised up the road, gaining minutes.
Perhaps it was optimism, or adrenaline, but Contador appeared calm, traces of pain just creeping into the edges of his face. He remounted and rode slowly away. Four teammates quickly came back to pace him.
But optimism waned, and adrenaline wore off — the two were certainly connected. 10km later, Contador pulled the plug on this year’s Tour de France. He gave his mechanic a small hug and slumped into the team car.
Confusion surrounded the crash; reports of a smashed bike, visions of exploded carbon, swirled around the press room and out through hundreds of thousands of television sets.
Initial reports on the Tour’s race radio, in French, and by NBC Sports’ Steve Porino, that Contador’s bike was “in pieces,” appear to be correct. “His frame snapped in half. They threw it in a heap in the back of the car,” Porino said, noting that he had arrived shortly after the crash.
Contador’s bike broke in the lower third of his down tube and on the top tube just in front of his seat tube. Both tubes were broken clean through, with just a few fibers holding the two pieces of the frame together.
Specialized, Tinkoff-Saxo’s bike sponsor, initially denied reports that Contador’s bike had broken at all, either resulting in or as a result of the crash, or via some other externality. The company first stated that a bike had fallen off the roof of a car. That story was then amended — it still involved a car, but instead stated that Nicolas Roche’s bike had been run over earlier in the stage. This broken bike was the start of the rumors, it said.
“We have spoken to Alberto’s brother as well as his personal mechanic (Faustino Muñoz) and the mechanic who was at the scene (Rune Kristensen), and contrary to some early, unconfirmed reports, frame failure was not involved in Alberto’s incident today. Nicolas Roche was involved in a separate incident today and while his bike was laying on the road it was run over by a car causing it to break, potentially giving rise to the initial inaccurate reporting,” the original statement read.
But the photos do not lie. Contador is #31, and his race number is on the broken frame. The Roche incident relayed in this statement may be entirely factual, but it is clear that Contador’s bike broke as well.
Specialized later corrected itself again, stating that Contador’s bike that had been run over. A source within the team who was present at the scene of the crash explained that Contador’s mechanic, Faustino Munoz, grabbed his backup bike off the roof, then, seeing the condition of Contador, rushed to his aid, leaving the bike against the team car. The team car drove off and crushed the bike. Photos were taken, and the broken bike story took off.
UPDATE: However, a fourth version of events has since come to the fore, and it’s the most plausible yet. According to Specialized’s Giampaolo Mondini, one of Contador’s frames was broken while it was still on the roof. Following Contador’s crash, the team car had to rush to his aid and clipped the Belkin car as it passed, destroying the bike.
“What happened next is that the team car tried to get recover position and get up to him, passing all the other team cars in doing so. The road was really narrow and the second bike on the roof ended up touching those on the Belkin team car. It was going pretty fast and the frame broke on top of the roof due to the impact,” Mondini told CyclingTips.
“When the car arrived to Contador, Roche had left his bike to the side [for Contador to use if necessary]. The people inside didn’t initially realize that the bike on the roof had been broken as things were so stressful. Everybody was a little bit confused. Contador got a third bike and got going, but unfortunately couldn’t continue in the race.”
The broken bike had Contador’s number on it, suggesting it was his primary bike. But it was also quite clean, suggesting it had been on the roof, rather than ridden. Most teams don’t put numbers on riders’ second bikes, but Munoz has done so in the past. It is plausible that the broken bike had indeed been on the roof of the team car, rather than under Contador. CyclingTips was able to corroborate the crash story with the driver of the Belkin car. The fourth version of the story, it seems, is finally the correct one.
The timeline from the crash onwards:
Contador hit the ground while trying to eat near the bottom of the descent.
Roche stopped, left Contador his McLaren Tarmac.
Contador got onto his third bike after the crash, an S-Works Tarmac with a normal Tinkoff paint job, and without a race number. His first bike had been crashed, and his second obliterated by an impact with another car. A brief shot on television showed his mechanic picking up his crashed bike, still in one piece.
Roche finished the stage on his second bike, rather than his McLaren. The story of Roche’s bike getting run over seems to have been born of the confusion surrounding the incident.
Whether the frame was broken by a car or a pothole, the result is the same. Contador is out of the Tour de France.
This story continues to evolve. Check back for updates.
Editor’s Note: Andrew Hood and Matthew Beaudin contributed reporting from La Planche des Belles Filles; Logan VonBokel contributed reporting from Colorado.