The arrival of the first stage in the 2013 Tour de France turned dreams into nightmares. Among the casualties was time trial world champion Tony Martin from Omega Pharma-QuickStep team. The German rider hit the asphalt hard in the bunch crash at 6km from what was eventually the official finish line. Top favourite Mark Cavendish got blocked and didn't grab the win, the yellow and green jersey.
Right after the finish team manager Patrick Lefevere described the chaos. "Another rider pushes Kwiatkowski. Gert Steegmans touched his wheel and crashed. Mark Cavendish didn't crash but he was blocked like many other riders. Eventually Matteo Trentin did the sprint for us. He went from far out. He had no chance against the big sprinters," Lefevre said.
A little later Steegmans walked up at the bus, bruised. Then, Kwiatkowski showed up with road rash all over his body. A few minutes later a stretcher was positioned next to the Omega Pharma-Quickstep bus. Press officer Alessandro Tegner informed the gathered press about the situation.
"Tony Martin has lost consciousness twice since he entered the bus. The doctor is with him now," Tegner said.
For about half an hour Martin received treatment on the bus before eventually being carried out of it. The German rider was clearly in a lot of pain, with his shoulder lying in an unnatural position. Eventually Martin was lifted on the stretcher and pushed into the awaiting ambulance. That ambulance then manoeuvred through the traffic jam that tried to get out of the finish area.
Marc Coucke, CEO from Omega Pharma, was on site in Bastia, Corsica. He was sharp for race organizer Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO).
"The team was more than ready for this but then happened what the French call 'a bordel'. There's a bus who thinks he's still in Australia. He hits the finish line arch. By then the race was at 15km from the finish line and riding at 60km/h so you have fifteen minutes to find a solution. You saw them running around but straight away I said they should neutralize the stage. They decided to put the finish line at 3km behind a corner. These sprints are already dangerous but it's worse when a rider suddenly hears in his ear that it's at 3km behind a corner that he has to chase glory. And then suddenly that's no longer the case. That's wrong. We missed Formula 1 decisions. You have to cancel the stage. The show must go on but not at the price of the riders themselves. You felt that something was going to happen," Coucke said.
"We hoped to have everything after the first stage. We end up losing nearly everything. First we have to think about the health situation of the riders. The sprint is the most dangerous of all disciplines of this sport. Featuring a changing finish line is over the top. It had the end up wrong and it did end up wrong," Coucke said.
"Filing a complaint doesn't solve anything. You know the Tour de France. They usually organize things very well and they're prepared for everything. But a bus that is stuck under the finish line arch... They searched several solutions. It was Tour de France unworthy because of an unpredictable feat. But to start juggling with the finish line at such an important moment for all these riders. That's looking for trouble. I would say the same thing if it would've been Greipel. Of course I'm saying it out louder now that our guys were among the casualties," Coucke said.
"It's up to the team directors Patrick Lefevre, Wilfried Peeters and the others to get the team ready again. If Tony is out then we can forget about the team time trial and we have to rebuild our train for Mark Cavendish. We probably can forget the green jersey too."
When Patrick Lefevere was asked whether things could have been avoided, he clearly wasn't happy with the way race organizer ASO dealt with the situation. "There's several things that have been bothering me for many years. We are not very important. A rider of mine, Pineau, always said, ‘ça c'est le Tour.' In an ideal world we would've won which would take away the pressure. The second stage isn't something for us so we would be easy there and then head for the team time trial. Now we have to see how bad our riders are hurt," Lefevre said.