The 2011 Tour de France, which flirted with madness on occasions last week, lost the plot altogether yesterday when an official French TV car smashed into Sky's Juan Antonio Flecha just as he and Jonny Hoogerland launched an attack off the front of a five-man break 35km from the finish in St Flour, WRITES BRENDAN GALLAGHER.
The competitors are already riding on the very edge of their abilities as they tackle the fiendishly difficult parcours, and they really don't deserve to be in fear of their lives from the organisation itself and their manic drivers.
Flecha, who has been a major success this year and last for Sky, was sent tumbling as the France 2 saloon car accelerated and swerved into him and the Spaniard in turn took out Hoogerland, who was catapulted into a barbed wire roadside fence.
Incredibly, both picked themselves up and somehow, eventually and oh so painfully, made their way to the finish line, warriors both but their Tour in tatters and dreams of a stage win dashed. The organisers even had the cheek to award them the daily 'combativity' award last night, but frankly that fight should not be for their lives.
Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford was furious as his team went directly to their team hotel pausing just momentarily for the chasing media. "No comment at all -- we're not going to say anything," said Brailsford, shaking his head in disbelief at what he had witnessed. "Let's just calm down, everyone's emotional now."
Stage winner Luis-Leon Sanchez immediately voiced the views of the vast majority: "This is totally unacceptable. It is a massive shame that something like this can happen in the most beautiful and biggest race in the world."
Hoogerland, who eventually rolled in with Flecha over 16 minutes behind the winner, was similarly outspoken: "At least we can still be happy that we are alive." (© Daily Telegraph, London)