It is not at all unusual for a young French rider to find himself surrounded by cameras and microphones following a stage of the Tour de France, but Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) would perhaps have gladly done without the attention in Gap on Monday afternoon.
Barguil accidentally bumped Geraint Thomas (Sky) off the road on the notorious descent of the Col de Manse in the finale of stage 16, causing the Welshman to crash headlong into a telegraph pole at the roadside and fall into the ditch.
Thomas was able to remount and crossed the finish line 38 seconds down on the yellow jersey group to remain in sixth place overall, 5:32 down on his teammate Chris Froome. As he warmed down on the turbo trainer after the stage, Barguil apologised for his part in the incident and looked to explain how he had come to slam into Thomas with his shoulder.
“I’m sorry, I’m really very sorry. I didn’t mean to bump Thomas,” Barguil said. “I wanted to brake but Tejay van Garderen had touched my shoulder before the corner. My hand slipped and I lost hold of my rear brake. You brake at the last minute on those corners and the second or two I lost when my hand slipped were fatal and caused me to ride into Thomas.”
The select yellow jersey group played out a score draw on the way up the Col de Manse, with only Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) managing to snap the elastic and break clear. Barguil, who moved back into the top 10 overall thanks to his showing on the stage, suggested that he had approached the descent with a degree of tension.
“The Tour is more nervous than other races. The competition is so close on the climbs that sometimes the gaps are made on the descents,” Barguil said. “As a result, everybody wants to be in the first positions.”
Both van Garderen and Thomas himself, however, held Barguil solely responsible for the incident. Speaking after warming down outside the BMC bus, van Garderen complained that certain members of the 10-man group of favourites had put themselves at hazard on the rapid drop into Gap.
“Some riders were definitely taking some big risks. I was just trying to stay on the wheel that I was on and then a lot of riders were trying to come over the top and take over positions, and they were just taking way too big a risk,” van Garderen said. “That saw Geraint Thomas take a fall because it looked like Warren Barguil took him out. I’m just glad to have made it down safely.
“Warren was trying to come over the top of me. I was just trying to hold my position at the front to stay safe. It was a matter of who braked the latest and he was just willing to take big risks. He took out Geraint Thomas and almost took out himself.”
Van Garderen remains third overall, 3:32 down on Froome, as the Tour breaks for its second rest day ahead of the denouement in the Alps. “I didn’t lose time. I’ve made it to the rest day so overall it was pretty successful,” he said.
While Thomas joined van Garderen in lamenting Barguil’s attempt to move up on the descent, he dismissed the idea that the Frenchman should face any sanction for his part in the incident. “Let’s just hope he learns his lesson,” Thomas said.
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) had a box seat view of the Thomas crash, meanwhile, having descended the Col de Manse with considerably more reserve than he had shown on the Tour’s visits in 2011 and 2013. He recalled simply that in 2013 he had gone off the road just after the same point as Thomas’ crash, bringing Froome with him.
“Thomas fell where I fell two years ago,” Contador said. “I was just behind. We were descending at a crazy speed but I kept my distance. There were a few scares on the way down, and eventually somebody fell.”
Mercifully, all involved survive to fight another day at this Tour.