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The Mad Second Week of the 2016 Tour de France

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

Part of the second week of the 2016 Tour de France was run in the shadow of the horrific terrorist attack in Nice, on Bastille Day, France’s national holiday, in which more than 80 people died. The organizers of the Tour considered cancelling the next day’s stage, in homage to the victims, but wisely decided to keep to the schedule.

Spectators who followed Bastille Day’s Stage 12, which ended just a few hours before the Nice tragedy, witnessed one of the most astonishing sights in the Tour de France history: race leader and defending champion Chris Froome running up Mont Ventoux because he had lost his bicycle in a crash. Froome and two other riders had crashed into a TV motorcycle that had been stopped by the unexpectedly large crowds that lined the route. The crowds were so large because the stage had been shortened by 6km due to extremely high winds at the summit of the mountain.

The two other riders picked themselves up and raced on, but Froome’s bicycle was damaged. So he began to run—instead of waiting for his team car to give him another bicycle. Eventually, he resumed racing, but lost more than 1min 40s, and the leader’s yellow jersey. However, the Tour de France race commission decided that the accident was so unusual that it would be unfair to punish the British rider. So he retained his race lead. Froome extended his lead in the next day’s individual time trial, finishing second behind Belgian Tom Dumoulin, who won his second stage of this year’s Tour.

Earlier, in Stage 11, run on July 13, Froome stole another few seconds when he and Slovakia’s Peter Sagan raced away from the main pack of riders with 12km to go in the stage, and kept a slim lead all the way to the finish line. Sagan won his second stage of the 2016 Tour and strengthened his hold on the green jersey, awarded to the Tour de France points winner.

Sunday’s Stage 15 was a fitting end to a turbulent week and a perfect introduction to the difficult final week of the Tour, as the riders head towards the Alps, where the Tour de France championship will be decided. Riders had to climb the fearsome Grand Colombier two times, from different sides, with the second ascent going only partway up. The stage was won by Jarlinson Pantano of Colombia, after an exciting mano a mano with Poland’s Rafal Majka. It was the first Tour de France victory for Switzerland’s IAM Cycling, Switzerland’s only professional cycling team. It was not a total loss for Majka, who took over the King of the Mountains polka-dot jersey.

Froome’s Team Sky teammates kept his rivals in check throughout the stage, and the defending champion finished the week with a lead of 1min 47s over Dutchman Bauke Mollema. His presumed main rival, Nairo Quintano of Colombia, is nearly 3 minutes behind, and will need Froome to weaken badly if he hopes to win.