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Tour des Chutes 2011

Every Tour de France has a number of crash-filled stages … today’s Stage 9 alone saw the exits of Team Astana’s Alexander Vinokourov (broken femur) … likely a career-ending injury since Vino planned to retire after this season, Garmin-Cervélo’s Dave Zabriskie (broken wrist), and OmegaPharma-Lotto’s Juergen Van den Broucke (broken shoulder) and Frederik Willems (broken collarbone), on top of the Stage 5 exit of Radio Shack’s Jani Brajkovic and the Stage 7 crashes involving Radio Shack’s Chris Horner and Team Sky’s Brad Wiggins.

But in the 20+ years that I’ve been following the Tour, I’ve never seen anything as bizarre and as completely avoidable as the following incident involving Juan-Antonio Flecha (Team Sky) and Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM), and one of the official media cars operated by Euro Media for France Télévision. Thankfully, the driver and car have been ejected for the remainder of the Tour.

I’m still trying to figure out what the driver of the car was thinking … “Hey, there’s a tree! I can’t slow or stop to avoid hitting the tree until I can safely get around the riders, so let’s accelerate and then swerve into the racers themselves! Bowling for cyclists! Bonus points for the aerial somersaults into the barbed wire fence!”

Thankfully, both Flecha and Hoogerland were able to carry on, albeit finishing more than 15 minutes behind fellow breakaway companions Luis-Leon Sanchez (Rabobank), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), and Sandy Casar (FDJ). The most poignant part was seeing Hoogerland standing on the podium to accept his maillot-à-pois-rouges (polka-dot jersey) for leading the King of the Mountains competition, which he earned by scoring 1st or 2nd place points on the first 6 of the 8 total categorized climbs in today’s stage.

With the rest day tomorrow (Monday), hopefully Hoogerland will be able to recover well enough to be able to defend the jersey for a few more days, but unfortunately, I doubt a spirited defense will be in the cards. Hoogerland is young though … and with youth comes resilience; so if not this year, then we should be able to look forward to more exploits from the young Dutchman in the future.

But the only good side to any of the crashes today is that the remaining riders in the breakaway were allowed to stay away, and Thomas Voeckler gained enough time to put on the maillot jaune (yellow jersey) again for the first time since 2004, when he wore it for 10 days.

I think we can all only hope that as the Tour moves into the mountains this next week, the peloton settles down a little bit and that the many severe crashes that have happened thus far are not a precursor of more to come.