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July 14, 2016 – No matter what happens on the 2016 Tour de France it will forever be remembered for Chris Froome running on foot up Mont Ventoux in the yellow jersey. The world’s most prestigious bicycle race threw up scenes of pandemonium, and even comedy, like never before.
A late change to the intended finish on the iconic Ventoux mountain saw the 12th stage on Thursday cut by 6km for safety reasons. Dangerously strong wind at the Ventoux summit reaching 130km/h in the early afternoon forced organizers to bring the finish line 6km down the mountain, a decision taken less than 24 hours before the stage finish.
With such a late change, organizers didn’t have time to replace the safety barriers normally placed in the final few kilometers of the stage. It meant that almost right up to the new finishing line, fans could crowd by the roadside unhindered. Chaotic scenes met the favorites as they rode up towards the finish to such an extent that a motorbike following the race was blocked by a wall of fans.
Australian Richie Porte couldn’t brake in time and crashed into the back of the motorcycle with Froome and Bauke Mollema following suit. Another motorbike ran over Froome’s bike, breaking that and leaving him with nothing to ride. With his team car stuck in traffic further down the mountain, Froome did the only thing he could think of, and took off on foot towards the finish.
“When I thought I had seen everything in cycling: Will to win!! Good decision to keep @chrisfroome with yellow jersey,” said Portuguese former world champion Rui Costa on Twitter.
Froome’s single-minded desire struck many as much as the comical scenes of a running cyclist. Millions of stunned television viewers could barely believe their eyes as pictures of the tall, gangly Briton running along the road in his cycling shoes — known as clips — were beamed into their homes. Almost immediately, the social media reaction went into overdrive.
A picture of Froome was superimposed onto another of Kenyan runners, producing the comical effect of the helmeted cyclist in his yellow jersey running alongside athletes. Another tweet likened Froome, who was born in Kenya, to the film character Forrest Gump, portrayed by Tom Hanks, who decided on a whim to run across America. Even his own team could see the funny side as Sky manager Dave Brailsford joked on French television: “Maybe next year he’ll run the Paris marathon!”
However, the incident provoked also a serious debate about security. Porte described the finale as “crazy” and fumed at organizers: “If you can’t control the crowds what can you control?” Mollema was equally frustrated and wrote on Twitter: “This may NOT happen in the biggest race of the World!!”
Tour director Christian Prudhomme said “exceptional circumstances” called for an “exceptional decision” to be made regarding Froome’s reinstatement as race leader. But he also announced an inquiry into what went wrong. The altered finish line meant only the last 600 meters, rather than 2.6km, were cordoned off from fans, many who spend the day drinking alcohol while waiting for the riders to arrive. That almost caught out the stage winner Thomas De Gendt.
“I was surprised because I didn’t know it was the last kilometer. I thought we still had 2km to go,” he said. “It came as a surprise to see the 200-meters sign, so I started sprinting.” The other issue the moved finish line caused was that a mass of fans who would normally have lined the original final six kilometers came down the mountain side to a lower point. That created a far greater number of fans than would normally be expected, with much fewer barriers to keep them away from the riders. The fall-out from Prudhomme’s inquiry is likely to rumble on. But in the meantime, the footage of Froome, clad in yellow, running along the tarmac will live long in the memory.