Geraint Thomas (Sky) risked adding his name to the list of victims of the infamous descent of the Col de Manse, but he recovered from a heavy fall in the finale of stage 16 of the Tour de France to limit his losses and remain in sixth place overall.
Thomas was part of the select yellow jersey group that was descending the Col de Manse some 18 minutes down on stage winner Ruben Plaza (Lampre-Merida), when he was bumped off the road on a sharp right-hand bend by Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin), who had taken the corner on the inside.
Reporters and spectators watching on the big screen at the finish five miles away in Gap assumed that Thomas’ Tour was surely over, given that he struck his head square against a wooden pole before falling down the embankment below.
There was no further update on his status until yellow jersey Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana et al reached the finish, when the race speaker breathlessly announced that Thomas was now entering the same straight in the company of his teammate Wout Poels.
Thomas eventually came home 18:50 down on the stage, but just 38 seconds behind the Froome group (he is now 5:32 down overall) and was immediately engulfed by a swarm of television crews and journalists as he crossed the line. He was typically pointed in his description of the crash.
"Barguil just wiped me out. It was a tight right and he just came around on the inside and knocked me straight off the road," Thomas said, before matter-of-factly describing his reaction to the incident. "I got back up and started chasing."
Spectators to the rescue
Before that, of course, Thomas had struck his head with considerable force, though he downplayed the effects of the blow. "Nah, I feel alright. I head-butted the wooden pole thing but luckily there was a barrier thing and it stopped me falling," he said.
While the professional peloton has rightly argued for the introduction of protocols to protect riders against the effects of racing in extreme weather conditions, there is a very strong case to be made, too, for the implementation of suitable procedures to deal swiftly with potential concussion cases during races. On Monday afternoon, Thomas had little option but to remount as hastily as possible.
"I feel alright for now, but I guess the doctor will ask me my name and date of birth soon," Thomas said. Asked if he could remember his name, Thomas’ double quick response showed that his sense of humour, at the very least, had not been displaced during the fall. "Chris Froome," he dead-panned.
Live television pictures failed to show how quickly Thomas had re-joined the fray, but he confirmed that he had been helped out of the ditch by a local fan. Proof, as it were needed, that the lamentable actions of some individuals in recent days are not reflective of the vast majority on the roadside.
"Yeah, a nice Frenchman. You know, they are nice here," Thomas said. "There’s a few that aren’t but a nice Frenchman pulled me out. I lost my glasses as well, and they don’t even make them anymore.
"I didn’t fall too far, because I was all tangled up in the bushes and the wire thing. I jumped on my bike and then the mechanic came with my spare one and I jumped on that. I probably wasted a few seconds there but whatever."
The great difficulty of the drop down the Col de Manse is that its terms of engagement fluctuate on the way down, as fast, smooth straights are interspersed with off-camber corners and rougher sections of road.
Its notoriety was cemented by the horrific crash that ended Joseba Beloki’s Tour challenge in 2003 and forced Lance Armstrong to take evasive action by cutting across a field. Andy Schleck’s nervousness on the way down the Col de Manse in 2011 effectively cost him Tour victory, while two years ago, both Alberto Contador and Froome briefly went off the road. Thomas did not feel, however, that the descent was too dangerous for the Tour.
"I don’t think so, it’s just how we race on it," Thomas said. "I don’t know why people don’t just chill a bit – wherever you are in the line just stay there and go down safely instead of fighting like a bloody bunch sprint.
"I don’t know why people can’t just stay in one line, sit where you are. What’s the point in fighting for position on a descent like that that’s known to be treacherous, so that’s annoying."
Thomas was referring, of course, to Barguil, but speaking on the steps of the Sky bus shortly afterwards, he dismissed the notion that the French youngster should face a sanction for his part in the incident.
"No, no. There’s nothing you can do there," Thomas said. "Hopefully he just learns his lesson."