Shortly after the finish of stage 6 of the Tour de France, Chris Froome (Sky) wheeled to a halt outside the Astana team bus, handed his bike to a mechanic and simply climbed aboard for an impromptu parley with Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), to the surprise of the journalists gathered outside.
Both men had been involved in the last kilometre crash that marred the finale in Le Havre and left maillot jaune Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) with a broken collarbone. Nibali, too, hit the ground in the incident and almost brought Froome down with him. Initially at least, each man seemed to hold the other responsible for the incident, hence the clear-the-air talks.
Froome re-emerged within two minutes and pedalled wordlessly back to his own bus, where he opted not to speak to the reporters assembled there. Shortly afterwards, a second emissary arrived from the Sky camp, as Dave Brailsford beckoned his opposite number Giuseppe Martinelli around the back of the bus for a brief discussion of their own, away from prying reporters.
“They cleared things up between them, because they hadn’t seen who had caused the crash,” Martinelli said of the Froome-Nibali summit. “Obviously he saw Vincenzo swerve and thought it might have been him, but after seeing it on television, it was clear that it wasn’t Vincenzo who caused it. It was a calm conversation.”
The replayed television images indeed show that the crash, which also saw Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) fall, occurred after Martin veered from left to right and into Warren Barguil (Giant-Shimano), who in turn brought Nibali down. Froome was directly to Nibali’s right and was forced to put a foot down, but managed to stay upright.
On falling, Nibali’s first instinct was to assume that the crash had been Froome’s fault and as he picked himself off the tarmac on the Rue Georges Lafaurie, it appears that he was not at all shy in making his feelings known.
“I was really very angry. In the heat of the moment, I was very angry with him,” Nibali told reporters when he emerged from the Astana bus. “At the time, I thought he was the one who had hit me and caused the fall, but that wasn’t the case. I’ve watched the video since and I’ve seen that it was Tony Martin’s crash that brought us down. Froome came on the bus to clear things up and I apologised to him as well.
“I don’t know exactly what happened, I saw that there was a deviation from left to right, then I was pushed to the right and I hit Froome, who was on my right. I went down heavily, and Barguil fell on top of me, I think.”
Froome limited his public comment on the matter to a post on Twitter. “There was some confusion as to who caused the crash, wanted to clear that up with @AstanaTeam @vincenzonibali (definitely wasn’t me!)” he wrote.
No serious injury
Amid the novelty of Froome’s diplomatic mission and the reconstruction of the crash, the injuries Nibali picked up in the incident almost went unspoken. The Italian was examined immediately after the stage by his team doctor, Emiliano Magni, and was confident that he would suffer no lasting consequences from his fall.
“My hip hurts a bit because I was caught under other riders,” Nibali said. “I feel ok, but I took a blow to the shoulder and leg too, and when you hit the ground it’s always uncomfortable.”
All day long, as has been the case throughout the week, the Astana, BMC, Movistar, Tinkoff-Saxo and Sky teams spent much of the day en masse at the head of the peloton in a bid to keep their leaders out of trouble. In the uphill final kilometre, just when it appeared the afternoon’s dangers had passed, four of their number were involved in the day’s biggest crash.
“It’s been a difficult Tour because there’ve been a lot of crashes. All the teams are trying to stay in front all the time and it’s hard to stay in position,” Nibali said. “But falling like that 500 metres from the finish on an uphill finish, I don’t understand what caused that swerve.”
Nibali remains 13th overall, 1:50 down, and 1:38 behind Froome, who will inherit the yellow jersey on Friday morning if Martin is unable to start. A year ago, Nibali emerged from the first week of the Tour with a sizeable lead on his general classification rivals. This time out, he has been on the back foot from the outset. “Let’s hope our luck changes because it’s been a tough Tour, right from the start,” Martinelli said.