Crashes and confusion marred the finale in the first stage of the Tour de France in Bastia on Saturday. Tony Martin, Peter Sagan, Geraint Thomas, Mark Cavendish and Alberto Contador were among the illustrious names who either fell or were delayed. Martin, the reigning world time trial champion, was later rushed to hospital with a suspected fractured collarbone and deep wounds.
While some riders - notably Martin's French Omega Pharma - Quick-Step teammate, Jérôme Pineau - maligned the chaos caused by GC riders forcing their way towards the front of the bunch in the closing kilometres, most anger was directed elsewhere. The reason was an incident already assured of its place in Tour folklore: the Orica-GreenEdge team bus wedging itself under the finish-line gantry and blocking the road as the peloton sped into the last 12 kilometres.
Faced with an emergency, after a brief discussion with Tour competitions director Jean-François Pescheux, the president of the race jury, Vicente Tortajada Villaroya, decided that the finish-line would be moved to the three kilometre-to-go mark. As this was being announced over race radio, with 10 kilometres remaining, Villaroya received news that the vehicle had finally been moved and spoke again to Pescheux. With the bunch now seven kilometres from the line, a new announcement was made to say that the original finish had now been reinstated.
The crash which put Martin's start to stage 2 in jeopardy - and many others out of contention for the stage victory - happened only minutes later, four kilometres from home.
Interviewed on French television after the finish, the FDJ manager Marc Madiot made no effort to conceal his disgust at the to-ing and fro-ing.
"It's complete nonsense. The president of the jury should get a big fine," a fuming Madiot said. "The riders took risks to get into position for the amended finish three kilometres from the line, and then they change their minds. Why did the president of the jury change his mind?
"When we make mistakes, we get punished, so the president of the jury should also assume responsibility for his actions. He's Spanish - I don't know who he is, but he should be sent home tonight."
While Madiot's Ag2r counterpart, Vincent Lavenu, claimed that the final change had been announced even closer to the finish - four kilometres out - opinions were divided among the riders about the effects of the confusion. For every Mark Cavendish, who suggested that the conflicting information was to blame for Martin's crash, there was a Marcel Kittel, who admitted that he had no idea why the change had been made and seemed to take it in his stride.
Madiot's star sprinter, Nacer Bouhanni, told L'Equipe, "It's not normal that they just change like that. I managed to avoid the crashes, but I didn't know where the finish was any more, three kilometres out or on the original finish line. I tried to stay at the front without really knowing."
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