Tour de France 2012: ‘Metz Massacre’ – What’s causing the crashes?

Typical, I go away for a couple of days and everything interesting happens. Evidently theres no point recollecting the events as thats a tad boring, so instead I thought it would be more interesting to look at some of the issues surrounding this Tour so far.

This Tour, like many before it, seems besot by crashes, with one even taking on a life of its onw, the now infamous ‘Metz Massacre’ that has led to the adandoment of nearly two teams worth from the peloton. Supposedly caused when Alessandro Pettachi asked his domestique Vigano to take his overshoes, only for Vigano to be unable to brake due to having his hands full (although this seems a tad odd, as supposedly the pack was slowing anyway), it led to a road block which Orica-Greenedge charged off from, flouting some unwritten rules in the process, and left a melee of broken bones, torn skin and blood on the road side. Woult Poels may even lose a kidney because of the force of the crash.

The problem is, these crashes appear to be more and more common these days. Since the tragic deathof Wouter Weylandt in 2011, riders have complained of the dangers of small, twisty roads which they claim cause crashes, but the problem is that the majority of the crashes in the last two years occured on straight roads – the ‘Metz Massacre’ couldnt have happenned on a wider or straighter bit of road, and the 2011 crash that set Alberto Contador back 1.20 in the GC was also on a straight road (albeit with a spectator in the middle of the road – similar to what happenned on stage one this year). It thus seems odd to blame sketchy roads – all the crashes seem to have been caused by rider error of some kind. But why?

The scene of Wouter Weylandt’s 2011 crash. The crash led to various small protests by riders over routes.

As I’ve mentioned before, some people claimed that the amount of crashes that occured last year, taking out Wiggins, Van den Broeck, Brajkovic, Horner and Vinokourov amongst others were due to a peloton that were nervous because ‘the lack of a prologue meant there were no time gaps.’ An odd assertion, as why surely you’d be more nervous if you had time to make up rather then being on the same time, but hey. Unfortuately for the purveyors of that logic, it’s been shatterred by what happenned this year, as with a gap producing prologue, the peloton has still managed to obliterate itself. It’s also crushed by looking at the 2008 Tour, a tour notable for its lack of fallers in the opening week, aside from Juan Mauricio Soler and the unfortunate Herve Duclos-Lassalle, who broke a wrist at the feed station, and this despite no prologue. But if you can’t blame the prologue or lack of it, nor the course, then what can you blame?

The animators of those things of course, that being the riders. With the ‘Superteam’ trend of the last couple of years, the classics riders have been recruited in to help the GC riders keep out of trouble, a tactic that has been used to perfection by BMC the past two years. Previously, the first week was the sprinters carte blanche, and the race was characterised by the sprinters teams locking out the front of the peloton in the battle to lead their man to the line first. Now though, the influx of GC riders and their helpers into this previously sprinter only area has made the race somewhat more complicated, as every team looks to move up and dictate the race. As Thomas Voeckler points out, there is only so much road for riders before some will be unable to fit in…

Garmin were essentially wiped out of the race by the ‘Metz Massacre’ – if the news coming out about them the same day had any truth, not a bad thing race wise.

That said, some have looked to even more supernatural means to explain they cacophany of crashes that permeate ‘week one’. Particullarly, there is talk of a ‘curse of stage five’, on the basis that this is the stage most likely to see crashes. In somewhat contradictory terms given the eeire nature of the prediction, logic is offered as a reason: by stage five, the peloton will have ‘settled in’ , it is claimed, and will be less nervous and as a result, more complacent and less aware. Apparently, that is the recipe for disaster.  And the evidence would support this to a degree: 

2012: Stage 5 was going fine till the end, when some leaning between Tyler Farrar and Lampre/Argos caused the American to fall, taking out a swathe of the peloton including green jersey Peter Sagan. Not as bad as previous years mind.

2011: Jani Brajkovic, Nicki Sorensen (knocked off by a photo motorbike), Alberto Contador, Robert Gesink, Ivan Velasco, Sylvain Chavanel and Tom Boonen all crashed on Stage 5, with a bruised back for Gesink and concussion for Brajkovic and Boonen.

2010: An off year for the curse apparently.

2009: The wind was a bigger problem then crashes this year, splitting the peloton, although Robert Gesink broke his wrist in a fall, robbing the Tour of  GC contender.

2008: Soler fell in the neutral zone, and would later abandon.

2007: Alexandre Vinokourov, the Tour favourite (oh glory days…), later to be kicked out after winning two stages with someone elses blood coursing through his veins, lost one minute twenty, and managed to drop all his helping teammates despite shredded knees in his attempts to get back.

Not exactly conlusive, but big names do tend to fall on Stage Five. However, this is clearly selective: key riders have been knocked out on other stages, such as Valverde in 2006, Franck Schleck in 2010, Wiggins in 2011 etc. The ‘Stage Five’ fixation is more likely some selective viewing rather then anything genuine.

At the end of the day, it would seem to be the riders that are to blame: they play with the course as they see fit, and can’t blame anyone but themselves for the chaos they leave behind. No one wants to see crashes (except NBC Sports apparently, who wanted to know people’s ‘favourite’ – a lame call to armchair fans determined to see blood, and somewhat pathetic considering men have lost their lives to crashes in the past 18 months, not just in professional circles), but its hard to see what can stop the rot at the moment.

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