If you've ever ridden a bicycle, the odds are exceedingly good that you've fallen off of a bicycle. Beyond the sheer, heart-sweating terror of the instant where you're actually in the act of transitioning from the vehicle to the ground, falling off a bike really sucks. You scrape yourself up, you'll probably be sore later and it's unspeakably embarrassing if anyone happens to be watching. And that's just if you happen to wobble in your grandmother's driveway and tumble into her rosebushes.
If you're on a carbon-fiber, state-of-the-art machine going several 10s of kilometers per hour, wearing nothing but spandex and pushing yourself to the very limits of human exhaustion and you happen to crash ... well, that's something else altogether. We're going to take a look at some of the most recent, most notable and most horrifying crashes in Tour de France history, but first, please allow me to give you a little perspective.
It's been pretty well documented that world-class cyclists are neither sane, nor quite human. These are men who have historically demanded to be put back on their bikes when they're already mostly dead, then pedaled a few more feet until they were actually dead.
Just just weeks ago, on July 6, Stage 6 of the 2012 Tour de France featured a massive crash involving nearly 100 riders. The crash split the peloton and resulted in both dashed hopes and significant injuries. Wout Poels, one of the riders involved in that crash, was initially put in an ambulance before getting back out, getting on his bike and trying to ride again. He got about 10 kilometers before he had to give up again. It's probably a good thing he did, because he had a ruptured kidney, a ruptured spleen, bruised lungs and three broken limbs.
That should probably tell you everything you need to know about how devastating crashes can be in the Tour de France. When you or I fall off our bikes, we get scraped knees and elbows. So annoying. When a Tour de France cyclist falls off their bike, their body explodes from the inside.
This GIF is pretty much a textbook example of what any given crash and the Tour de France is like:
It has every hallmark of a Tour de France crash:
- You're not quite sure what happened
- A bunch of people fell over all at once
- Spectators are involved
- Someone is lying on the ground clutching at their collarbone
- Someone probably broke their collarbone
The dangers of the Tour de France go way beyond the actual terrain, which includes hills that would make you start crying if I told you that you had to drive over them in a car. The level of focus and concentration required is insane. For example, you always have to be watching out for dumb photographers.
You also have to be careful when riding through a gorgeous, pastoral countryside, because the slightest wrong move of your wheels can send you flying ass-over-teakettle into a fence.
You know how sometimes you'll be riding your bike and get distracted and look the wrong way, or look back over your shoulder at something, then you look up and you're about six feet away from your original line of travel? Yeah, you can't really get away with that in a peloton.
Heck, even trying to AVOID a crash in the Tour de France may often end up with you looking like you're trying (and failing) to bust some sort of sweet tabletop maneuver in Matt Hoffman BMX.
Crashing at the Tour de France is so ubiquitous that even the spectators try to get in on the action from time to time.
And now let us take a look at the eight most memorable crashes in recent memory.
8. Samuel Dumoulin Tries To Do A Barrel Roll, 2011
The most frustrating thing about California Games for the Sega Master System was that it was supposed to be technically possible to do a front flip in the BMX level, but every time you thought you had enough air, you'd come straight down on top of your head and break your crazy neck. In 2011, Samuel Dumoulin tried to execute the front flip, only with out the "air" part (and, thankfully, without the "broken neck" part).
7. Lance Armstrong Goes Off-Roading, 2003
Lance Armstrong is sometimes tarred with the "you're a cheater!" brush. Granted, usually said brush is dripping with accusations of delicious, oxygenated blood. But let us never lose sight of the fact that Armstrong is a world-class troll who generally does whatever the hell he damn well pleases. If anyone doesn't like it, they are more often than not invited to kiss all around some graphically specific areas of Armstrong's body.
In 2003, Armstrong deftly avoided a crash by Joseba Beloki (who is the beNorse god of bemischief), by going XTREEEEEEME and just cutting the hell across a meadow. He gets bonus points for having to carry his bike the past few feet, and for no one ever calling him out on the fact that he totally just cheated.
6. HELLO? YES, THIS IS DOG., 2007
HI GUYS WHAT'S HAPPENING HERE. WHAT ARE THESE TWO-WHEELED THINGS. HOW ODD; THIS CALLS FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATION.
I APPEAR TO HAVE FALLEN OVER, AS HAS THIS MAN. SORRY I BENT YOUR WHEEL, FRIEND. WHAT AN ADVENTURE I HAVE HAD.
5. Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, Hoisted With His Own Abdoujapetard, 1991
Djamolidine Abdoujaparov was known for being a very aggressive and selfish rider, always flailing about with much more lateral movement than is often necessary during sprints and breakaways. In the final stage of the 1991 Tour, Abdoujaparov was barreling headlong toward the finish when he hit a promotional can and just splatted in spectacular fashion. You can jump to about 1:20 in the video below to get straight to the goods.
Just POW, man. Zero to concrete in no time flat. For the record, Abdoujaparov won the Tour's points classification despite the crash. And broke his collarbone.
4. and 3. Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich, Wrecking And Sportsmanship, 2003/2001
In 2003, Lance Armstrong was attacking on a hill when his handlebars got caught in something a fan was waving and he went down hard, also wiping out the rider behind him. (Tour de France fans love to wave things. See also: Steelers fans, Twins fans, crowds at hip-hop concerts.) Jan Ullrich was in the lead when Armstrong went down and despite being just 15 seconds behind Armstrong in the general classification, Ullrich made no move to leave the current leader in the dust ... which he very well could have. Armstrong nearly wiped out again after getting up and going back on the attack. Ullrich's decision to follow the unwritten rules of Tour de France sportsmanship (not attempting to gain time on a downed leader) proved costly: Armstrong wound up winning both the stage and the Tour.
Beyond sportsmanship, the reason for Ullrich's decision not to make a mad dash for it is that, just two years earlier, Armstrong did not make a move on current leader Ullrich on this crash, which is understated, but perhaps my favorite of the bunch:
I totally love this crash, although it could very well have been horrible catastrophic. He's just tooling along and -- whoops! -- heading down the hill into this underbrush now, I guess! Don't mind me, fellas! Just got some burrs in m'riding shorts! Whups whoops whoa fudgecicles.
2. Jens Voigt Faceplants, 2009
Jens Voigt (the father of Angelina Jolie) has been involved in quite a few crashes in recent years, but none more cringe-inducing than this one in 2009. He hit a bump in the road and landed on his face, at full speed. That's it. Sometimes that's all the setup you need.
Voigt suffered a fractured cheekbone but somehow both 1) is still alive and 2) still has a face. Plus, he was awesome in Anaconda.
1. Johnny Hoogerland's Favorite Show Is Probably Not The Wire, 2011
This crash only happened a year ago, but is still one of the most horrifying bicycle crashes you're likely to see. If you're ever watching the Tour and wonder how all those cars and motorcycles can just drive willy-nilly among the riders, well, it doesn't always work out so well.
In Stage 9 during the 2011 Tour, a French television car swerved and clipped Juan Antonio Flecha, who was pushed into a pair of other riders, one of whom was Johnny Hoogerland of the Netherlands. Hoogerland was send flying into a barbed wire fence and ... well, just see for yourself.
Amazingly, Hoogerland only needed 33 stitches despite flying full-speed into a barbed wire fence. He lost 17 minutes as a result of the crash, but he and Flecha won the day's Combativity award, so ... uh ... hooray?
We hope you enjoyed this look at some terrifying moments! Stay safe out there, everyone. Watch out for dogs and photographers and please -- please, for the love of god -- wear a helmet. Leave faceplants and flying into fences for the professionals.