MONT VENTOUX, France – On Bastille Day, fans created havoc at the Tour de France like never before.
Storming the road on France’s national day, the crowd prompted a crash involving race leader Chris Froome and it wasn’t until hours after the wacky 12th stage concluded that organizers decided the British rider could keep the yellow jersey.
“Mont Ventoux always throws up something different and today was no exception,” Froome said. “You always have to expect the unexpected at the Tour.”
In a complete embarrassment for cycling’s biggest race, Richie Porte crashed headfirst into a motorbike carrying a TV camera, and Froome, who was right behind his former teammate, also hit the pavement in the final kilometer on the wind-shortened climb up legendary Mont Ventoux.
“The crowd was just all on the road, and a motorbike stopped right in front of us and we had nowhere to go,” Porte said. “The next minute, I went straight over the top of the motorbike. It was just a mess.”
Last week, Froome punched the face of a spectator who got too close to the race.
“I agree that you come to the race, you have a good time, but you don’t need to be running beside the riders, you don’t need to hitting riders, pushing riders,” said Porte, who was being examined for possible injuries. “Things have got to change, and I can’t believe there weren’t barriers there.”
The wind prevented organizers from erecting the usual barriers at the end of most stages, Tour director Christian Prudhomme explained.
“We took an exceptional decision because of this exceptional situation, an incident that might have never happened before in 100 years,” Prudhomme said. “There will be an investigation to find out why the TV motorbike was blocked and the riders fell.”
After the crash, Froome threw his mangled bike aside and began running up the road. He eventually was given a small yellow race assistance bike before his team car was finally able to provide him with a suitable substitute.
All of Froome’s main rivals crossed ahead of him, and Froome shook his head in disbelief when he finally reached the finish.
“It’s really unfortunate what happened in the last couple of kilometers,” Froome said, “but ultimately common sense has prevailed and the commissaires have come to the right decision, so I would like to thank them for that.”
As Froome ran through the crowds, he attempted to communicate with his team via radio but the crowds prevented the Team Sky car from reaching him.
“It was a nightmare,” Sky sports director Nicolas Portal said. “It took up to two minutes for him to get a spare bike but the pedals did not suit him. … I can’t understand how so many people were allowed there. It was mayhem.”
Before the crash, Froome dropped most of his rivals apart from Porte and Bauke Mollema.
The race jury eventually decided to give Froome and Porte the same stage time as Mollema.
Still, Froome was booed and whistled at when he put the yellow jersey back on during the podium ceremony.
Froome, who is seeking his third Tour title in four years, increased his overall lead to 47 seconds ahead of fellow British rider Adam Yates.
Two-time runner-up Nairo Quintana was third, 54 seconds behind, and Mollema moved up to fourth, 56 seconds back.
“I wouldn’t want to take the jersey like this. I’m happy with the decision,” said Yates, who was initially given the race leadership according to preliminary results. “(Froome) is the rightful owner of the yellow jersey.
“If anyone was in the same situation they would feel the same. Nobody wants to take the yellow jersey like that. You want to take it with your legs. There’s not many sports where the fans can get this close to the athletes like this. It is what it is.”
Thomas De Gendt won the stage after getting into an early breakaway and easily sprinting past fellow Belgian Serge Pauwels on the steep slopes of Ventoux.
“There were too many people in the last kilometer,” De Gendt said. “There was not even a place for one motorbike. They should do something about it.”
With the wind at nearly 80 mph on top of the “Giant of Provence,” organizers moved the finish line 3 1/2 miles down the road to the Chalet Reynard.
It was still a grueling six-mile climb featuring several sections with gradients exceeding 10 percent.
It was De Gendt’s first career stage win in the Tour. He finished third in the 2012 Giro d’Italia.
Froome was the stage winner when the Tour previously scaled Ventoux’s barren, 6,263-foot peak in 2013.
Ventoux was also the site of an epic contest between Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantani in 2000, and where British rider Tom Simpson died in 1967 from a combination of amphetamines and alcohol.
Now, another memorable chapter has been added to Ventoux lore.
The race’s first time trial comes on Friday with a hilly 37.5-kilometer (23-mile) leg from Bourg-Saint-Andeol to La Caverne du Pont-D’Arc, where Froome will be looking to add to his lead in calmer circumstances.
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