July 3, 2016 – Monday’s stage 3 of the 103rd Tour de France (#TDF2016) heads south, out of Normandy into the Loire Valley, with a finish in Angers. It’s a long stage of 223.5 kilometers, but given favorable winds it could be one of the fastest in Tour history—though perhaps not matching the record 50.355 kilometers per hour set in 1999 for a 194.5-kilometer stage won by Mario Cipollini in nearby Blois.

#PelotonShorts by John Wilcockson/Photo by Yuzuru Sunada

This will be the 15th time a road stage has finished in Angers (there have also been four time trials here); the last time was 12 years ago (this image), when Tom Boonen, in his debut Tour, won his first-ever Tour stage ahead of Stuart O’Grady and Erik Zabel.

That was no ordinary field sprint, because it was contested by fewer than 20 riders after a massive crash at the final-kilometer archway stopped or slowed the other 170 racers. In reporting that crash I spoke at the scene with a gendarme, who said: “A racer hit one of the barriers on the left just as they went under the archway…. The riders completely blocked the street, and I had to clear a way through for the ambulances.”
Among the injured were Australian sprinter Robbie McEwen and American contender Tyler Hamilton; the reckless rider who hit the barrier and caused the pileup, Austrian René Hasselbacher, broke his nose and some ribs and didn’t start the next day.

Had that crash happened 100 meters earlier, all those who were delayed would have been given their actual times—and most of the race favorites would have lost several minutes. Because of that crash, the relevant UCI rule was changed to extend the “safe zone” from 1 kilometer to 3 kilometers.

Given the dangerous nature of finishes in the first week of the Tour, perhaps that 3-kilometer rule will need to be enforced on Monday. But the approach to the Angers stage finish this time is different; the peloton won’t be racing down a narrow city street into the final kilometer, though the gradual uphill run to the line is the same. There’s no Boonen in this race, but expect a fierce battle between race leader Peter Sagan, stage 1 winner Mark Cavendish and newly crowned German champ André Greipel.

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