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Comment: unprecedented but absolutely correct to keep Chris Froome in yellow

Team Sky man given same time as Richie Porte and Bauke Mollema after Mont Ventoux crash

Allowing Chris Froome to keep his yellow jersey after the carnage that ensued on Mont Ventoux was an unprecedented move by race commissaires – but absolutely the right call.

Froome was charging clear of Nairo Quintana and his GC rivals when Richie Porte (BMC Racing) rode into the back of a race moto, which had stopped suddenly as a result of the roadside fans.

Froome and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), who was also powering the move, were brought down in the incident, with Porte suffering a slight mechanical and Froome needing a new bike.

The sight of Froome running up Mont Ventoux, in the yellow jersey – so focussed on winning the Tour, it was the first thing to pop into his head upon learning how far back the team car was – will live long in the memory.

But it was a sight which could, and most definitely should, have been avoided.

Chris Froome, Bauke Mollema, Richie Porte, crowds, Mont Ventoux, fans, TV moto, Tour de France 2016, stage 12, pic - Sirotti
Richie Porte, Chris Froome and Bauke Mollema fight their way through the crowds (pic: Sirotti)

Fans at the roadside are part of what makes the Tour de France so special – the colour and vibrance they add to the famous mountain-top finishes as memorable as some of the racing itself.

ASO and the Tour de France have published many videos, pleading with fans not to run alongside riders, not to light smoke flares and to respect the race – but the message clearly isn’t getting through to some.

Incidents like this are not uncommon – Zdenek Stybar’s hopes of winning Paris-Roubaix in 2013, for example, were ended by an over-enthusiastic roadside fan, while Froome has already been in trouble for punching a fan on the Col de Peyresourde this year.

But while it can be dismissed as a racing incident, and in the past such occurrences have been, for the race leader to lose the yellow jersey – effectively punished for attacking – in such circumstances would have been a travesty.

You do not envy the decision-makers – they were damned if they did, damned if they didn’t – but on Bastille Day, on one of the Tour de France’s most famous mountains, it is not images of Porte smacking his chin on a motorbike or Froome running up the climb the race wants to convey, but of triumph.

Adam Yates, who stood to gain from Froome’s initial time loss, even said himself he did not want to take over the yellow jersey in those circumstances.

Giving Porte and Froome the same time as Mollema, who remounted quickly after the crash to snatch a top-ten finish behind the breakaway, was – on reflection – the fairest decision.

It was unprecedented, and worked on an assumption all three would have finished together, but the race would have been tarnished had any other decision been made – “yeah, he won, but only because of that crash on Mont Ventoux”.

Chris Froome, yellow jersey, Tour de France, 2016, stage 11, pic - Sirotti
Chris Froome will keep hold of the yellow jersey after race organisers gave him the same time as Mollema and Porte (pic: Sirotti)

So, what now – Porte said “the crowd were all over the road” at the point in which the incident happened, just before the barriers, while stage winner Thomas de Gendt added: “There were too many people in the last kilometre, not even space for a single motorbike.”

To barrier the entirety of the course is, evidently, not practical – the logistics alone of laying, in some cases, more than 200km of barriers and removing them in time for the roads re-opening to the public is not feasible.

However, that close to the summit finish there needs to be more control over the roadside spectators – to lose them would be to lose part of the sport’s heritage, but fans’ attitudes need to be changed.

The race is not about them, it’s about the riders. As the Tour’s pleading videos state – “respect the race”.

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