Fast Freddy Rodriquez took some heat earlier in the TdF for criticizing organizers about how they were setting up the course, among other things. If you haven't raced, you need to understand that field sprints are basically mayhem - as crazy as they look on TV, they feel even crazier. In a contested race, if you are going for it, you may be six or seven abreast, bumping into each other, bobbing right to left, with people's legs failing, the front wheel getting light from power pulses with each pedal stroke, and oh, by the way, you're going in the mid-30 miles per hour range, even in a lot of the lower category races. In a good field sprint, I feel like one of a dozen ball bearings in a coffee can, being shaken about vigorously. I like it, but am always conscious about the fact that the sprint occurs right on the ragged edge of control, and sometimes just past it.
The last kilometer before the finish line, in short, is not a place for race organizers to do novel things with course layout.
Freddy crashed hard today with several others in the final turn, and criticized Tour organizers bitterly. I'm not going to laugh at him this time, because even a big dope of a novice racer (like me) can see he's right. There were two very hard right turns combined with narrowing in the last kilometer, the final chicane-into-a-90 degree turn falling within 500 meters of the finish. Freddy had a very good shot at the podium taken away from simply because the course layout was disastrous. Additionally, he said (and George Hincapie confirmed) that there was nothing in the race bible about this ridiculous set of turns. That sounds right, because the entire lead group (literally) took the turn wide, as if they had expected the turn to be a sweeper, not a hard right. It would have been a close thing and the group would have made it through, but Julian Dean, who was jumping just as he hit the turn overcooked it badly and took out Boonen, Freddy and a couple other riders, Frank Schleck among them.
Around here in our low rent domestic farmboy amateur level racing, even we know better. I've been at race meetings where course changes are suggested, and the discussion comes back to what would be safe at a given point in a race. Yes, it's a subject of debate sometimes, it isn't always clear cut. Yet I have absolute trust that if we tried to run a field sprint through a sharp-as-nails chicane on a road course, that our estimable head ref, Jim Patton, would "put the coy-ate-us on it," as Howard Cosell might say. (I hope you all are grateful for the way he and the other refs look out for all us knuckleheads.) When you see how a stupid error in course setup can destroy even the top pros, Jim's approach doesn't just make sense, it becomes clear that it is the only approach organizers and refs should take. At a minimum, they need to point out clearly dangerous features on the course.
Now I will make a distinction for crits. The nature of the criterium race is to be selective by forcing riders to negotiate highly technical features on the course. But there is a finite number of turns, bumps, potholes, cracks, expansion joints, and random features on a crit or circuit course, and the racers get a chance to preview the course. So if the sprint is in some insane location, well, so be it. It is still dangerous, but the danger is mitigated by the fact that the racers know what is coming and have at least an hour or two, counting warmups, to come to grips with the appropriate risk management strategy.
That the organizers of the premier pro event in the world did not at least point out this severe hazard, is inexcusable. Somebody could have been crippled or killed as a result of their kind of gross negligence. Throwing riders moving at 35 miles per hour, elbow-to-elbow, into a blind chicane, without warning, is just flat wrong. Hard is okay, unfair and unsafe isn't.