In a scene that will go down in Tour de France infamy, a stage had to be neutralized because of a freak ice and snow storm on the road at the bottom of the Col d’Iseran.
Tour organizers made the call in the name of rider safety. Cameras showed snow plows on the road trying to clear slush from the route that the riders were soon to take to the finish in Tignes. The images emerging from the course make it seem as if the right call was made.
There were even landslides on the road.
More drama.. reporter is Dag Otto Lauritzen pic.twitter.com/IoOC4rpwIL— Trond Iversen (@trondiversen) July 26, 2019
But as well-intentioned as the call was, it will have ramifications that may upset many riders.
The neutralization meant that times were taken from top of the Col d’Iseran, where Egan Bernal took the summit and opened up a more than two-minute time gap over Julian Alaphilippe that put him into the yellow jersey. With an 8-second time bonus, Bernal provisionally leads the Tour by roughly 40 seconds. He has to be considered the favorite to wear yellow in Paris with just one more day of racing.
But he could have potentially opened up an even bigger gap to pad his lead. Meanwhile, other yellow jersey contenders like Steven Kruijswijk, Emanuel Buchmann, and teammate Geraint Thomas were robbed of a chance to make up time on the Category 1 mountain top finish.
As for Alaphilippe, he may be upset that he didn’t get the benefit of the Iseran’s descent. Perhaps the best of descender in the peloton, he was poised to eat back precious seconds and potentially mitigate the damage being done for Bernal. At the same time, he appeared to be cracking on the stage, and arguably “won” the neutralization by not losing even more time on the final ascent.
The Tour will have a lot of questions to answer tonight. For example: how will it handle time bonuses? Does Bernal get an extra 10 seconds for winning the stage, even though no one knew he was crossing the finish line? What about the second- and third-place finishers? We know Bernal will be in yellow for Stage 20. We don’t know yet exactly what the general classification will look like with just one decisive day left in the Tour.
[Update: There is no stage win time bonus because there is officially no stage winner.]
Many riders appeared to ignore the call to neutralize, continuing to bomb down the descent even as Tour directors were explaining to them from their cars that the stage was over. Once they see the images, many will likely agree that the correct decision was made.
We may never see a stage like Friday again.