The scene is atypical, almost surreal: in the middle of the race, Nairo Quintana is seated on the side of the road and observes the landscape, Peter Sagan waves to the camera while sipping a soda, Wout van Aert chats with his sports director. At the forced stop, everyone is busy during this incongruous break 37 km from the finish, following a demonstration by environmental activists who burst onto the road armed with smoke bombs.
The different levels understood one by one that the race was neutralized. “We took it as a joke with the guys in the breakaway, we took the opportunity to take a little break to fill up the cans, have a bite to eat”explains Benjamin Thomas (Cofidis), among the first to observe it since he was present in the breakaway.
Behind, the different clusters discovered it in turn. “My radio stopped, I was told there was a demonstration. It went well, everyone was calm. It didn’t disturb us too much”blows Victor Lafay (Cofidis). A sign that the atmosphere was more relaxed than frustrating, the AG2R Citröen riders even used their humor once at the finish.
“Since I was not well, I called the Hauts-Savoyards to put themselves in the middle of the road!”jokes Aurélien Paret-Peintre, in difficulty at the start of the stage before finishing in the group of favorites. “We thought it was Belgians so that Oliver Naesen [leur coéquipier] get in the peloton!”continues, mischievously, his teammate Mikaël Chérel.
After a twelve-minute break for leading man Alberto Bettiol (EF-Education-EasyPost), who spent his frustration by circling the road like a caged beast, everyone left with frozen times, and therefore an identical race situation. “I think it was well managed by the organization because they waited, we stopped right for the time of the breakaway”observes Paret-Peintre.
But starting again after such an interruption is not easy, even for the pros, and especially for the sprinters, who are already in difficulty. “It was hard to find the legs during the last climb”explains Connor Swift (Arkéa-Samsic). “The restart was laborious, but we immediately arrived at the bottom of the last climb, so we were able to do the gruppetto and finish quietly.“, admits for his part Adrien Petit (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux).
Invited on the Vélo Club set, Christian Prudhomme put things into perspective. “It’s an unexpected and untimely stop. We are rarely blocked, and there we were for a few minutes. It happened at Roland-Garros, at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, in the German football championship, it happens today on the Tour de France”recalls the director of the Tour.
But how did the runners take this blockage, while the ecological cause is increasingly invited into the public debate? Quinn Simmons, pinned in the past by his team for tweets in support of Donald Trump, was circumspect. “It’s a bit of a shame. There are normally plenty of police at bike races to keep things safe. I think I have to be careful what I say, but I think there are other ways to protestmentioned the American climber, and youngest of the Tour.
Others immediately ignored the neutralization, putting the cause above the race. “We see that we are in a humanitarian crisis with the temperatures arriving. It is important that there are people who demonstrate, we all need to be sensitive to this. It does not shock me at all , I think there needs to be more and more things like that to make sure everyone realizes that we’re moving into a crisis.”indicated the Canadian Antoine Duchesne (Groupama-FDJ).
Finally, others are more divided, like Victor Lafay. “These are important subjects, I know that the organization is keen to evolve in this direction, on the throws of cans, waste areas. It’s good to demonstrate, after that I don’t know if it’s It’s good to slow down the race”specifies the Cofidis rider, joined by his compatriot Mikaël Chérel.
“It’s clear that the media resonance of the Tour, for them, it represents a lot of visibility. It shouldn’t give ideas to others, but it didn’t distort the race, it’s just a anecdote”concludes the Frenchman. If the neutralization of 2019 in Iseran for weather conditions had definitively stopped the stage, that of 2021 was only temporary, and the Tour will continue its route in the Alps.