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The Day Hoogerland Almost Cried After a Crash

By Martin Atanasov

The Tour de France definitely doesn’t lack its fair share of drama. This year, we saw some amazing finishes, especially the penultimate stage when Pogačar and Vingegaard went into a full-on battle for the stage win. This stage also offered a poetic moment as Thibaut Pinot made his farewell Tour de France race one for the ages. Still, all of these memorable moments pale in comparison to the drama that took over the Tour during stage 9 of the 2011 edition of Tour de France. Rarely does a crash become such a bitter-sweet moment as the infamous Flech-Hoogerland incident did.

2011 Tour de France

The 2011 Tour de France was, perhaps, among the most intriguing ones in recent history. After leading for 9 stages, Thomas Voeckler lost the yellow jersey just three stages before Paris. Andy Schleck, as expected, was on top of his game, but a phenomenal Cadel Evans managed to get the prestigious GC trophy. Thus, we witnessed the first Australian to become the Tour de France winner.

The battle for every jersey was fierce. Well, Cavendish managed to secure the Green Jersey at stage 11 and never lost it till the end. On the other hand, there was a lot of drama with the white jersey, but Pierre Rolland managed to snatch it finally. The Polka-dot jersey was another story. 5 people were in the fight for it, and while Samuel Sanchez ultimately managed to grab it, it became the centre of what this 2011 Tour de France will be mostly remembered for—the stage 9 crash.

Hoogerland before the crash

Johnny Hoogerland was a world-class athlete even before the stage. He had several stage wins at prime tours in the previous few years, as in 2010, he even won the Mountains and Sprint classification in Tour de Pologne and the Mountain classification in Tour of Britain. In 2011 he had his first Tour de France appearance with the Vacansoleil-DCM team, and he was ready to show his best. As early as stage 4, Hoogerland showed his strength in an early breakaway, which lasted almost until the finish. His performance in the climbs was outstanding, and during stage 6, he joined his teammate Lieuwe Westra in an early breakaway, allowing him to capitalize on the first 2 categorized climbs of the day. This ensured him the polka dot jersey at the end of the stage. He retained the precious jersey until stage 8, when Tejay van Garderen managed to join a breakaway and win several categorized climbs, stealing the polka-dot jersey.

Hoogerland was not happy, and he was not going to give up without a fight. The Dutchman was ready to attack the 9th stage and retain his lost jersey. Most importantly, the Dutch had the legs and the stamina to do it.

Stage 9

Juan Antonio Flecha
Flech picking up his bike after the incident. © Profimedia

Stage 9 from Issoire to Saint-Flour was a tough one. It consisted of 208 km with 8 categorized climbs, bringing points to the climbers. This was Hoogerland’s stage—the one where he’d show who’s the king of the mountains.

The peloton stuck together for the first 40 km as several breakaway attempts were put to rest. At the foot of the Cote de Massiac (Cat.3), Johnny Hoogerland initiated a powerful attack, followed by yellow-jersey contender Thomas Voechler. Juan Antonio Flecha, Sandy Casar Luis Sanchez, and Niki Terpstra joined the fun and slipped away from the main group. Eventually, Terpstra was dropped at the steepest part of the higher climbs that followed. Hoogerland managed to grab the lion’s share of the king of the mountain points, which meant he’d definitely wear the polka-dot jersey the next day. The Dutchman knew he managed to get back what was his, and all he had to do now was to stay with the breakaway group and get to the finish. Alas, fate had other plans.

The crash

About 36 km before the finish, a camera crew made an unexpected move right beside the breakaway group and sideswiped Juan Antonio Flecha. The Spaniard lost control of the bike at a speed of nearly 70 kph and hit Hoogerland. The Dutchman was catapulted off the road right on top of a stretch of barbed wire. He sustained deep cuts that would later need 33 stitches.

Despite the severe crash, both riders managed to get on their bikes and finish the race. Both bloody, with immense pain showing on their faces, they managed to climb the last two ascends before the finish. Their determination and unwillingness to succumb to the pain gained the admiration of the entire peloton as well as the fans. Both were cheered throughout the remaining 36 kilometres. Teammates and other teams from the main group slowed their pace so the two could get into the time cut and finish the race. This was one of the greatest shows of sportsmanship in any sport in recent years. Finally, both managed to cross the finish line to the exploding cheers of the fans.

After the race

Hoogerland managed to gain back his polka-dot jersey. Seeing this battered man barely standing on his feet receiving such an honourable award was a sight for the ages. Hoogerland, overwhelmed with emotions, with the boiling pot of fan cheers and the grand gesture from the peloton, burst into tears. Shortly after, he was taken to the hospital, where he received additional treatment.

Both Hoogerland and Fletch were able to continue the race, though their performance was seriously hindered. Fletch sustained elbow and knee injuries. Hoogerland was no better. “I have no idea what I will be able to do in the race. I am better on my bike than I am going up the stairs, though,” the Dutch rider said.

The organisers immediately apologised to the riders and expelled the TV crew from the race. Moreover, they started implementing strict rules for all non-essential crews along the route.

The aftermath

Hooglerland retained his jersey until stage 12. Unfortunately, the crash took a serious toll on his ability to ride, and eventually, Samuel Sanchez managed to take over the polka-dot jersey. Despite this, Hoogerland and Fletch were given the honorary combativity award for stage 9 and gained the respect of both their fellow riders and cycling fans around the world.

Two years later, Hoogerland received compensation for the accident. Though a satisfying end, it’s definitely not the glory he’d have received as king of the mountains. Unfortunately, Hoogerland’s stay in the Tour de France will be mostly remembered by this absurd and cruel mistake that stole away the Dutchman’s chance of glory.