Blazin' Saddles

Tour de Farce: Star flies over handlebars, Contador’s crash

Blazin' Saddles

Italian veteran Michele Scarponi was giving it such wellie on the descent to the foot of the final climb to La Planche des Belles Filles that he overcooked a corner and went right over the handlebars.

Frankly, it looked utterly ridiculous with the rider tamely veering off the road and over a barrier.

That Scarponi remounted, fought back on, and then helped set up Vincenzo Nibali for his second stage win of the race, just goes to show what a tough nut he is - and how strong Astana are going into the second phase of the race.

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Just when you thought we were in for a routine Team Sky blitz up the Planche des Belle Filles Alberto Contador goes and crashes out on the Tour - sparking pandemonium in the world of cycling.

Unusually for a race as big as the Tour and its unrelentingly fantastic TV imagery, there was no live footage of Contador's crash, which came on the sweeping descent of the Petit Ballon - the second of seven climbs in what was a thoroughly punishing stage 10.

The cameras were on hand to capture the aftermath of the incident - with Contador needing medical treatment to his right knee and a change of shoes as uncle Bjarne gave him a back massage and removed the protruding raincoat from his back pocket.

It took the Spaniard a whole four minutes before he could remount his bike and get on his way. Contador didn't mount his original bike, mind. He needed a new one because his was badly damaged. In fact, this was the main talking point of the day - just what happened to his bike - and more precisely: was his bike the actual cause of his crash?

TV commentators quickly relayed rumours coming from the French media coverage of the race that Contador's frame had broken, sending the Spaniard tumbling to the ground. The excellent Inner Ring was on hand to point out the subtle difference, effectively, between his bike breaking itself in two and his bike being broken in two.

Still, with the rumour out and circulating on social media, the story of Contador's supposed damaged equipment snowballed quicker than Jan Ullrich's off-season appetite.

Later on, in the aftermath of the stage, one of the Tinkoff-Saxo mechanics stressed that Contador's bike had not been broken. The broken bike that everyone was talking about was apparently one that fell from the team car's roof rack when they had stopped moments earlier to fix the bike of Nicolas Roche, who had suffered a mechanical on the same descent.

Specialized, the team's bike suppliers, were even forced to make a hasty statement stressing that "frame failure was not involved in Alberto's incident today".

"Nicolas Roche was involved in a separate incident and while his bike was laying on the road it was run over by a car causing it to break - potentially giving rise to the initial inaccurate reporting," Specialized told Business Insider.

So that cleared it up, then. Or did it? For soon some photos came through on the wires - and the broken Specialized did not look like that of Roche (whose race number is 37).

Confusion reigned until it was claimed/confirmed later on that it was Contador's second, reserve bike that had been damaged when falling off the roof.

Of course, this merely swapped the sponsorship focus from Saxo's bike supplier to their roof rack brand of choice...

Anyway, with no cameras rolling fans had to rely on other riders' version of events to piece together what may have happened. Some said Contador hit a "small stone" before coming down; others spoke of a "pothole". Once the dust settled, Bjarne Riis said the accident happened on a fast, straight part of the descent when Contador was reaching around to his pocket.

Jakob Fuglsang of Astana wasn't so generous in his wording, according to reports.

Either way, the frame was probably broken upon impact with the pothole that Alejandro Valverde - among others - claimed took out his fellow Spaniard. Although, as one half of the Velocast podcast said, we'll probably never know the full truth.

What we do know if that Contador soldiered on for about 20km before finally throwing in the towel - probably not long after it dawned on him that he was riding alongside Andre Greipel during one of the race's key mountain stages.

Before Contador went down the same path as Chris Froome and withdrew from the race there was a tender moment when he thanked team-mate Mick Rogers for trying to help nurse him back into the peloton, which at this point rode more than four minutes further up the road.

Even Contador's biggest detractors couldn't deny that the moment the double Tour winner finally climbed off his bike and admitted defeat was incredibly moving.

But the show had to go on - and one of the reasons why Astana, after initially soft-pedalling following Contador's crash, were ramping up the tempo was because dangerman Michal Kwiatkowski was in virtual yellow. The Polish youngster was part of the main break - and in team-mate Tony Martin he had a second engine.

One day after winning and securing the polka dot jersey with an impromptu individual time trial to Mulhouse, Martin was at it again - and this time by completely burying himself for Kwiatkowski for climb after climb. When 'Das Panzerwagen' finally succumbed to the combined laws of gravity, physics and biology, he hit the wall in spectacular fashion - almost coming to a complete standstill on the 18 percent ramps of the penultimate climb.

Within a matter of minutes, Martin has been caught and shelled out by the onslaught of race favourites, who had smelled blood - not to mention a tiring Kwiatkowski and Joaquim Rodriguez, who had by now secured Martin's KOM jersey.

By this point, Astana had ramped up the chase in the group of main pack from which the yellow jersey Tony Gallopin had been dropped.

Nibali's emphatic victory came on a Bastille Day where France had three riders finish in the top five - Thibaut Pinot, Romain Bardet and Jean-Christophe Peraud - and the same three riders, alongside Tony Gallopin, in the top eight on GC.

But it was no surprise that the main focus of the stage media dissection was the withdrawal of the race's second pre-race favourite less than a week after we bade adieu to Chris Froome, who was clearly watching events from back home.

But just as the world discussed the impending quality of the Vuelta line-up it was announced that Contador had broken his tibia - yes, BROKEN HIS LEG - in his fall and required surgery, whereby ruling him out of the final Grand Tour of the season.

Of course, talk of broken things inevitably led the debate back to what actually happened with the Spaniard's bike...

So, in a bid to avoid any controversy - and to wrap things up on a positive note - how about celebrating the class of Peter Sagan. The Slovakian was part of the initial break as he swept up maximum points in the intermediate sprint to all-but-secure the green jersey for a third consecutive year. On top of this, Sagan then made a mockery of the final 20 percent ramp to the finish line by pulling off his party piece.

Perhaps Contador was trying one of Sagan's tricks on that descent? We'll probably never know...

Felix Lowe - Twitter: @Saddleblaze

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