If something seems too good to be true, then it usually is, especially at this Tour de France. Stage 6 from Abbeville to Le Havre had been the calmest of the race so far for the overall contenders, with the peloton enjoying mercifully still conditions as it hugged the Norman coast, but a late crash saw stress levels return to normal by day’s end.
Yellow jersey Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) was the first rider to fall in the incident that took place with 600 metres remaining and though he crossed the finish line, he abandoned the race on Thursday evening due to a broken collarbone. The knock-on effect from his crash saw Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) hit the ground in turn, though none reported serious injury.
The initial crash took place directly in front of Quintana and van Garderen, and neither could avoid riding into the back of it. Both men remounted quickly, however, and soft-pedalled across the line, safe in the knowledge that they would be awarded the same time as the main peloton.
“I went down in the fall, I was about three places back and I got caught up in it,” Quintana said. “I have some superficial blows but I hope tomorrow that my elbow is ok. I feel good and I hope that it’s nothing. Right now in the heat of the moment, I don’t notice anything wrong but we’ll have to wait until tomorrow to be sure.”
Following Martin’s abandon, Quintana will start stage 7 in 16th place overall, 1:56 behind Chris Froome (Sky), who himself narrowly avoided coming a cropper in Thursday’s crash.
Quintana’s teammate Alejandro Valverde also suffered a crash on stage 6, albeit earlier in the stage, and the Movistar squad reported that he sustained blows to is gluteus, left calf and back, but confirmed that his race is not in jeopardy.
Indeed, Valverde had hoped to sprint for the stage win on Thursday, only to be slowed by the crash in the finale. “It was going to be difficult to fight for the win on that finish but after the swerve from Froome it became impossible,” he said. “But we’ve been given the same time, so it’s not a problem.”
For his part, van Garderen felt that the crash had been a natural consequence of the general classification contenders and sprinters fighting for different objectives on the same terrain.
“I think it was just people doing a lead-out coming back and maybe there was a touch of wheels,” he said afterwards. “It’s always going to be dangerous with uphill finishes like this. The GC guys want to be up there in case there are gaps, and the sprinters want to go for the stage. Getting that mix together is always pretty dangerous.”
Like Quintana, van Garderen sustained no serious injuries in the crash, which BMC doctor Max Testa credited in part to an inadvertently soft landing. “He likely landed on a couple of other riders and he only has superficial abrasions,” Testa said.
Van Garderen will now move up to second overall following Martin’s departure, just 13 seconds behind Froome.
The unfortunate rider to finish beneath van Garderen, incidentally, was Warren Barguil (now 10th at 1:07), and the Breton was able to make light of the crash after he had remounted and crossed the line.
“I don’t understand how we fell either, I just landed on Nibali,” he said. “It’s a shame because I was well placed and we had a good chance of winning the stage with John Degenkolb. I’ve got big bruises on my hip and shoulder but I feel ok. And we’re getting to Brittany next."