Days into one of the most stressful editions of the Tour de France in recent times, the 2021 event's youngest rider, Tour debutant Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious), says that he should be able to get through three weeks of the hardest stage racing the sport has to offer. The 22-year-old, however, recognises that the Tour's stress levels represent a new high in his professional career and, with so many crashes, also regrettably a new high in the general level of danger.
Wright himself has fallen twice, most seriously on stage 3 but fortunately without serious damage.
“I was a bit unlucky," he told Cyclingnews. "I went down when G [Geraint Thomas] fell, that was a surprise because you don’t expect to be on the front and crash with 20 kilometres on the clock.”
Wright came away with a couple of grazes and hit his shoulder hard from that tumble, but sadly, much worse was to come for Bahrain-Victorious.
“We’ve been very unfortunate though, with Jack [Haig, team leader] out of the race in the finale, which is devastating for the squad," said Wright. Haig’s injuries included a concussion and a broken collarbone.
As for Wright, he has one morale-boosting reference point in his 18 months as a professional when it comes to riding the Tour de France. That was taking part, and completing the Vuelta a España last year, his first Grand Tour. In Spain, he also notched up a fourth place on the stage to Puebla de Sanabria, the longest of the entire race, at 230 kilometres and in the third week too, which hints strongly that he can come through such major efforts in good shape. Though, at the Tour there are additional aspects to face.
“The race itself, the stress is a lot greater, we’ve got bigger crowds here.... the Vuelta has shown me that I can deal with a long stage race, but the stress and the crashes here are something a bit different,” Wright recognises.
The Tour de France for Wright may be about gaining experience and finding his feet for future races, but there's also more to it.
It is “not just about getting round," he said. "I’m trying to help the guys, Sonny [Colbrelli] for the sprints and the GC guys to stay out of trouble. It’s proving to be really difficult in the Tour, it’s so stressful. But I’m doing my best, for sure.”
Apart from falling alongside Thomas, he went down himself in the first major pile-up of the race on Saturday, too, thankfully without injuries.
“I got rugby tackled” is how he graphically puts it. “It’s just crazy days on a bike, you know?”
Even as a second-year pro, while he emphasises the resulting lack of greater knowledge and experience of the sport, what he’s seen in the Tour is enough to convince him that measures are needed to ensure greater rider safety.
“We’ve got to take action on these stage finishes, cos yesterday [stage three] was a bit too much,” he emphasised. “Just the narrow roads, and the stress, and a 180-rider bunch, it’s not going to go well.”
And with Haig gone apart from Colbrelli Bahrain Victorious are also fielding two other key riders in top shape, Vuelta stage winner Wout Poels and the incombustible Pello Bilbao, who recently completed the Giro.
“We’ve still got targets,” Wright points out – including, of course, his own.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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