The 2016 Tour de France
The 2016 Tour was packed with iconic cyclists. Alberto Contador, Peter Sagan, Mark Cavendish, Romain Bardet, Julian Alaphilippe, Chris Froome, Rafal Majika, the still-young Adam Yates, and many more. In the early stages, Cavendish and Sagan established dominance as the superior sprinters of the pack. The third stage was especially thrilling, with a massive sprint that had to be decided by a photo finish. Cavendish was the winner even though Saganretained the yellow jersey. However, as the race reached the mountain sections, Sagan focused on his sprints and left the General Classification for the rest.
At stage 5, Greg Van Avermaet was 5’11” ahead of his competitors. Froome was 5th, 5’17” behind. In the following stages, Froome lost 40 seconds to Avermaet but the British rider exploded at the Pau – Bagneres-de-Luchon route. He surprisingly broke away from a group of 14 riders before the summit of the Col de Peyresourde with about 15 km to the finish line. With the help of a “super aero” position, he reached a top speed of 90.9 kph. At the finish line, the pack was 13 seconds behind, and with the time bonus, Froome took over the yellow jersey for the first time in the race. At stage 9, he retained his lead and increased it in the following two stages. Nothing predicted the drama that was awaiting in the 12th stage.
The Mount Ventoux push
The stage was set on the 14th of July and took the riders from Montpellier to the infamous Mount Ventoux. Mont Ventoux has always been one of the toughest climbs in the Tour de France, and it’s precisely where legends are born. The day was packed with climbs to prepare the riders for the legendary ascent. First was Cote de Gordes, a seemingly easy Category 4 climb. Next was the Category 3 Col des Trois Termes. Finally, Mont Ventoux was awaiting with its HC category and nearly 2,000 metres of elevation. The 15.7-kilometre climb had become infamous and has always been the showstopper climb in the Tour de France.
The whole problem began with a weather forecast the day before the race. According to the meteorologists, high winds were expected at the summit, so organizers decided to shorten the stage by 6 km to reduce the chance of incidents. However, spectators were not informed in advance, and thousands of onlookers took their places along the 6-km stretch, only to find out that the riders would never reach them. The fans started amassing near the new finish and created a spectacular atmosphere.
Unfortunately, they left almost no space for TV crew motorbikes, cars, and anything other than the cyclists themselves. Chris Froome, Richie Porte, and Bauke Mollema who managed to break away from the peloton, were surrounded by a thick crowd that barely left any space to ride. Unfortunately, one spectator forced the motorbike with a cameraman to take a sharp right turn and stop abruptly right in front of Froome. All three riders crashed.
For a second, the entire mountain remained silent. No chants, no encouragement, just panic, slight but notable panic. Though the speed was not high, Froome, Porte, and Mollema found themselves on the ground. Thankfully, there were no serious injuries. Mollema quickly got back on his bike and rode off. Porte and Froome, however, had no such luck. Froome’s bike was badly damaged and unusable. Only one kilometre to go, just before the finish, Froome was about to lose everything. Due to the thick crowd, the team car was way behind, and a new bike was not coming anytime soon. So Froome did the only thing he could – he started running up Mont Ventoux. This infamous climb has seen many things but a running cyclist was never one of them. The fans, realizing what had happened, quickly started encouraging the Brit.
Moreover, the news of his crash went downhill through the fans who instantly made way for the neutral support car and, shortly after, the team car as well. Froome first took a neutral bike, and spectators were ecstatic seeing him again on the bike. However, the bike wasn’t set up for Froome, so he struggled with it a bit. Spectators started pushing and cheering him toward the top. Right before the finish line, the team car finally reached the British cyclist and gave him a proper bike. Froome finished a minute and 40 seconds after Mollema, which meant he had to cede his yellow jersey to Adam Yates.
Froome was devastated by the events. He came as a solid leader but due to no fault of his own, he was now sixth. There was still a long way to go to Paris but the morale blow was huge. Such events crush riders’ spirits and often lead them to abandon the race altogether. Fortunately for Froome, the race organizers made a controversial decision due to the exceptional circumstances of the crash. They decided to give Froome and Porte the same time as Mollema, again placing Froome as the overall Tour leader. Moreover, Froome gained some precious seconds in front of Yaits and Nairo who finished shortly after Mollema.
This decision was met with mixed reactions from fans, pundits, and fellow competitors. Some argued that it was a fair decision given the unusual circumstances, while others felt it was unfair and went against the principles of competitive cycling. The critics inspired Froome to prove himself and not let anything tarnish his upcoming Tour de France victory. So, in the very next stage, Froome obliterated Yates and Nairo, finishing nearly 2 minutes in front of both. He continued his strong cycling and at the finish line in Champs-Elysees, Froome was more than 4 minutes in front of the next best rider, Romain Bardet, 4’21” ahead of Nairo and 4’42” ahead of Yates.
So the only thing the organizers did when giving Froome a shoulder during the infamous Ventoux push was to provide him with the moral support he needed to shine through the rest of the Tour. And while Froome will forever remain one of the best riders of all time, the Mont Ventoux push will always be a symbol of his undying determination to win.