Christian Prudhomme had tried to prevent the wind from wreaking havoc on stage 12 of the Tour de France by moving the finish line 6km down Mont Ventoux, but in the end mother nature still had her way and was responsible – if indirectly – for one of the biggest polemics of the race so far.
100km/h gusts made the exposed and barren upper slopes of the ‘Giant of Provence’ unrideable, but down in the trees below the new finish line at Chalet Reynard, the wind was still strong enough to prevent barriers being erected as normal in the closing kilometres.
That, it turned out, would have significant consequences, as a TV motorbike was brought to a standstill amid the sea of fans with 1.2km remaining, and Richie Porte (BMC Racing), Chris Froome (team Sky) and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) ploughed into the back of the vehicle.
Mollema was up and away quickly but yellow jersey Froome was forced to proceed desperately on foot, and it looked like we were heading for one of the most controversial episodes of recent Tours until the decision was made to award the race leader and Porte the same time as Mollema.
"The decision yesterday to move the finish line was indispensable but as a result there was congestion at the end of the stage," race director Prudhomme told reporters seeking explanations amid the chaos half-way up the mountain.
Indeed, in cutting the length of the stage, they essentially lost 6km worth of space in which to accommodate and spread out the masses of spectators.
"We weren't able to erect the barriers in the final kilometres because they just blew away," added Prudhomme.
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The race director explained that the decision was not taken by himself or ASO but rather by a commissaire panel from the UCI, the sport's governing body. He also said there will be an inquiry to ascertain exactly how the incident came about.
He described it as "an exceptional situation – unprecedented even", the like of which he has never come across over the course of his career – "neither as a journalist nor as a race organiser".
Porte vented his frustration at the minority of roadside fans who weren't respectful of the race and, though less overtly critical, Prudhomme did recognise the behavior of fans as a big problem in the context of the incident.
"There was a considerable influx of spectators with some great people of but also some who were more excitable," he said. "And with all those people it was impossible for the TV motorbike to pass through.
"I have to repeat it every day, and I rely on you [the media], too, to spread the message, to urge people to be more attentive."
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