Michael Woods, like many of his fellow Tour de France riders, believed it was important for the peloton to symbolically protest after the crashes and tension of the early stages of this year’s race, with the Israel Start-Up Nation rider insisting there was unity in the peloton.
“I think it was important to send a signal to the UCI about safety,” Woods told Cyclingnews after Mark Cavendish won stage 4 in Fougères.
“I think more can be done and I think we need to be united in the future and take a bigger stance. If you look at other pro sports, they’re willing to walk away for an entire season, let alone one stage or ten minutes in a stage. I think we need to be more united and more courageous and take bigger stands in the future.”
The Tour de France briefly stopped near the kilometre-zero point of the stage outside Redon and then staged a 'go-slow' in the opening kilometres. It did not affect the racing but sent a signal to race organisers ASO and the UCI, who govern the sport.
The protest came after numerous riders, including Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) and Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious) hit the ground in several places on the narrow, technical run-in to the finish. The two Australians were forced to abandon the Tour de France. Roglič has suffered serious road rash and bruising with Jumbo-Visma concerned his overall ambitions may be over.
While the CPA rider's association released a statement requesting discussions with the UCI and race stakeholders in order to improve rider safety, a number of riders wanted to go further and send a stronger message to UCI president David Lappartient. He had infuriated parts of the peloton by suggesting in the Ouest France newspaper that the road of his hometown in Brittany were fine and “the majority of crashes are due to a lack of attention.”
The peloton rode slowly out of Redon on stage 4 but only stopped in protest when Woods’ Israel Start-Up Nation teammate Andre Greipel waved to Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and others to stop.
Race leader Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and 2020 Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) did not lead the protest and were not seen at the front of the peloton.
“Andre is a true leader and everyone has respect for him, so he was able to slow everyone down,” Woods explained. “I think everyone was on the same page for the protest, it was just the terms and the actions afterwards, about what we’re looking for.
“I think we’re getting close to being a lot more unified but we’re not quite there yet.”
Woods knows the pain and suffering of crashing at the Tour de France after going down on stage 1. He is riding with a scared left arm and the crashes on the opening stage ended his hopes of a good overall classification performance at the 2021 Tour de France.
He will now target stage victories and use Wednesday's time trial as a chance to recover.
“I feel good now. I feel lucky that I’m not as banged up as I could have been,” he said.
“I crashed at 70 kilometres per hour and I was more mentally impacted than anything. In the last two stages I was a lot more mentally scared because of how fast I crashed, but I’m coming around.”
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