Pre-race Tour de France favourite Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) could have crashed hard twice on the descent off of the Petit Ballon during stage 10 Tour de France when fractured his tibia. The Spaniard tried to carry on and even managed to climb up the following first category climb but after descending the Col du Platzerwasel, he was forced to abandon the Grand Tour.
Tinkoff-Saxo director sportif Steven de Jongh explained what happened during the crash once he arrived on top of the finishing climb, La Planche des Belles Filles.
“Daniele Bennati rode behind him [Alberto Contador] and he said his hands came off his handlebars, hitting a hole or something. It’s pure bad luck. He crashed and received a spare bike from Nicholas Roche. Possibly one kilometre later, he crashed once again. The reason? The rain made the roads more slippery, possibly his hands were full of dirt after the first crash and that’s why he lost hold of his handlebars but that’s all speculation,” De Jongh said.
Fellow director sportif Philippe Mauduit told Cyclingnews that the team had asked the riders to avoid risks on the descent of the Petit Ballon.
“I think they were pretty much at the front at the beginning of the downhill and we asked them not to take any risks. I don’t think they were moving up. That was not the call. Alberto is smart enough that if we tell them not to take any risks, they don’t take any risks.”
How and where the two crashes occurred in the peloton is unclear. Several riders confirmed they saw Contador crash. According to riders and other wtinesses, Contador seemed to first crashed at the front of the peloton when he tried to overtake Jurgen Van Den Broeck, who was the last man of his Lotto Belisol team near the front of the field. A second crash apparently occurred when Contador was apparently moving up with his whole team.
“I was very lucky. Contador crashed but it was his own mistake. Everybody was at ease. I was riding behind my teammates who were leading the peloton. I left a bit of a gap to keep things safe. Apparently he felt the need to overtake me. It was in his typical style, standing on the pedals. He hits a pothole and goes over the handlebars. His head was next to my front wheel. He could’ve taken me with him. I can’t understand why you take that many risks to move up one spot,” Van Den Broeck said after crossing the finish line.
“It doesn’t surprise me that he’s out of the race by the way I saw him crashing. It happened just next to me. It was a terrifying crash. I was surprised he managed to continue. He took risks, especially at that moment in the race. He was completely isolated. If you’re then going to sprint by everyone on a descent full of potholes and you hit one, then you go over the handlebars.”
Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEdge) witnessed the crash too and was surprised Contador managed to get back on the bike.
“According to me, he was moving up during the descent. That didn’t seem necessary to me because we were already quite near the front. I didn’t see exactly what caused the crash but I saw him crashing. He touched the ground a couple of times really hard. Eventually, he ended up at the side of the road. At first I thought he would not get back up. It was a big hit. We were going really fast,” Keukeleire told Cyclingnews.
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) saw Contador crashing too but he saw the whole team moving up. “It wasn’t necessary. They moved up beside me with the whole team. They were already in about 25th place but apparently those Saxo-guys wanted to move up even more. I always want to maintain my position during a descent but they wanted to move up. It’s a stupid crash on a straightforward road. Very stupid,” Van Avermaet told Cyclingnews.
After his crash, director sport if Philippe Mauduit learned that Contador was in a lot of pain. “He said that it was very painful and that he was sore everywhere, especially on his right leg. The doctor put on some bandages because the blood was coming out of his leg very strongly.”
Why was there a broken bike?
Cyclingnews asked De Jongh about a broken bike, which was discussed on NBC television in the USA and widely on social media. French TV said Contador's bike snapped in two pieces in the crash but that proved to be half correct.
“We knew that [the bike wasn’t part of the Contador crash] but the rumour was spreading. That broken bike never rode a kilometre and is lying somewhere in a car. It was his spare bike, which was on top of the team car. When we overtook other cars in the ditch the car was leaning to the side and that’s when it hit another bike. We set up a new spare bike for him but that turned out to be no longer to be necessary,” De Jongh told Cyclingnews.
Speculation ran riot on social media after suggestion that Contador's bike had failed before he crashed. However bike sponsor Specialized said this is not true. Other witnesses and teams corroborated the claims of Specialized and the Tinkoff-Saxo team.
"We have spoken to Alberto's brother as well as his personal mechanic (Faustino Muñoz) and the (other) mechanic who was at the scene (Rune Kristensen), and contrary to some early, unconfirmed reports, frame failure was not involved in Alberto's incident today," Specialized said in an official statement given to Cyclingnews.
"Live race reporting is difficult and sometimes mistakes are made. We are continuing to research the events of today and will share any further details as we learn more."
"This is DS Bjarne Riis description of the crash, 'Alberto crashed on a fast and straight part of the descent. He was reaching for his pocket and the bike was swept away under him probably because of a bump or hole in the road. Alberto was in the shape of his life and the entire team had our eyes fixed on the podium in Paris and the work we would have to do to get there."
"Teammates were first to communicate the crash to the team vehicle via radio. Reports from Tinkoff-Saxo are saying their team car was passing closely to a vehicle Team Belkin and bikes became entangled between the two. Alberto’s spare bike was broken into two pieces in this way. When a racer has a heavy crash, a mechanic will immediately provide a spare bike as a safety and performance precaution. As Alberto’s spare bike was destroyed, so Nicolas Roche immediately offered his own race bike so that Alberto could continue immediately."