The Tour of Flanders will be remembered for Alexander Kristoff’s victory and a great day of racing but also for the accidents that saw two nasty crashes involving Shimano neutral service vehicles.
Jesse Sergent (Trek Factory Racing) and Sébastien Chavanel (FDJ) were both taken down by a neutral service car, in two separate incidents, within around 20 kilometres of each other. Both riders subsequently abandoned the race and while Chavanel escaped with some hefty bruising, an x-ray revealed that Sergent had broken his left collarbone.
Sergent’s incident was by far the most dramatic. It happened while he was in a six-man breakaway with just over 100 kilometres remaining of the race. The riders were in the middle of the road and Sergent began moving over to the left hand side of the road just as the neutral service car attempted to make it through the ever-decreasing gap. The accident was reminiscent to the one involving a France Television car during the 2011 Tour de France, which collided with escapees Johnny Hoogerland and Juan Antonio Flecha. Shimano quickly apologised for the incidents and said it would carry out an full investigation.
Trek Factory Racing manager Luca Guercilena accepted that there always risks when cyclists and cars are in such close proximity but was left angry by the incident that removed his rider from the race. He vented his anger with the staff from the Shimano neutral service after the race.
“These things can happen in a race because we know that riders and cars can very often be close to each other,” Guercilena told Cyclingnews. “But in this kind of situation, the neutral car was just passing the breakaway when the gap was still four minutes and the trajectory of the riders seemed clear that they were closing to the left side because the turn was on the left.”
There was initial relief that Sergent hadn’t suffered serious injury but he appeared to hold his left arm while sat in the back of an ambulance following the crash. A trip to hospital later confirmed that he had broken his collarbone. The Trek Factory Racing team had been hoping that Sergent could play an important role late on in the race for team leader Stijn Devolder.
“He was in the breakaway and he was feeling good. The strategy was to have one extra rider in front for the final of the race and obviously our tactic couldn’t work like that but it is how it is,” said Guercilena.
Sergent will have surgery in Belgium on Monday morning and should be able to travel home on Monday evening but is expected to be out of action until at least May. His injury is another blow to the team. Trek Factory Racing lost team leader Fabian Cancellara in a crash at E3 Harelbeke. He fractured two vertebrae and will miss the rest of the spring Classics.
“With a broken collarbone it is never less than one month out and there’s 15 days off the bike without training. I think it will be one month without the rider and for us it is a problem because we are also without Cancellara now and we have another couple of guys with injuries so obviously it is one that counts,” Guercilena explained. “It will be tough because we focus a lot on the classic races and for us we have a lot of injuries and that of Jesse too is not helping.”
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Chavanel was hit while resolving a mechanical problem on the side of the road. His team car, which was driven by team manager Marc Madiot, had stopped behind their rider when it was hit from behind by another neutral service vehicle. The force of the crash propelled the FDJ team car into its own rider. Fortunately both rider and passengers escaped serious injury, but the same couldn’t be said for the cars involved.
Marc Madiot later described the incident to Cyclingpro.net: “We were called to help Sébastien Chavanel. When we came behind him, we were hit by a neutral service car. In a race like Flanders, it can happen but luckily we had our seatbelts on. He pushed us forward twenty meters and we collided with Seb. Thank God, he is not injured.”
The French team later suffered another crash and team leader Arnaud Démare finished the day 23rd, over three minutes behind Kristoff.
“Our clover had three leaves today, not four,” Madiot said wryly.
Shimano, who supply neutral service vehicles for many of the races on the WorldTour and international calendars, issued a brief statement after the race.
“At Shimano we apologize for both incidents the Shimano sponsored neutral caused today at the Tour of Flanders,” the statement reads.
“We especially apologize to the riders and teams involved, Jesse Sergent of Trek Factory Racing and Sébastien Chavanel of Française des Jeux. We wish them a speedy recovery.”
“The drivers of the neutral cars are professionals with many years of experience in professional cycling races. We will investigate both incidents deeply and take appropriate action.”