SAINT-MALO, France — Hitting the asphalt at something like 60 kilometers (40 miles) per hour flayed off a patch of skin from Tom Veelers’ right thigh. Blood snaked down his leg from his sliced-up right knee. His white jersey was torn and soiled.
“Bruised and scratched from all sides,” said the big Dutchman when asked how he felt. “But … yeah, OK.”
In short, Stage 10 was another day at the office for the charging-bull sprinters of the Tour de France.
Chris Froome, the race leader, isn’t a sprinter. The Briton was just relieved to survive unscathed all the pushing and shoving on two wheels.
The “worst nightmare,” he said, for riders like him — lighter, less muscular and with eyes fixed on reaching the podium in Paris on July 21 — is to be felled by crashes like the one that floored Veelers on Tuesday in Saint-Malo. The fall came in the shadow of this Brittany port’s crenelated walls, with spectators crammed cheek by jowl to get a look.
“Every day you get through with the yellow jersey is a blessing,” Froome said. “So I’m happy just to tick that one off.”
Veelers’ job is to help launch his teammate, sprinter Marcel Kittel, in the final mad dash for the line. He did that just fine on Tuesday, because Kittel won — becoming the first rider at this 100th Tour to win two stages, having also won Stage 1.
As Kittel sprinted away, rival Mark Cavendish hared after the German. In doing so, Cavendish’s left arm barged into Veelers’ right arm. Because both were riding at such speed, the contact was enough to tip the Dutch rider over.
“Marcel went all the way left and Cavendish dived to the left, I think to try to follow Marcel,” Veelers explained after he picked himself up, climbed back on his bike and rode through the finish to his Argos-Shimano team bus, where a shoal of impatient, sharp-elbowed reporters waited.
“He touched my handlebars and knocked me over.”
Cavendish was adamant this wasn’t deliberate. The Briton with 24 Tour stage wins lost his temper with an Associated Press reporter who asked if he was at fault, grabbing his voice recorder.
“I touched with him. But the road’s bearing left. I know you’re trying to get all the ‘Oh, Mark Cavendish, a really bad sprint again.’ The road’s bearing left. Two hundred and fifty meters to go, the road bears left … I followed the road,” he said.
“So I think if anyone’s trying to get, ‘Oh, Mark Cavendish, dangerous sprint.’ I think you’re in the wrong there, you know?”
The race jury studied video of the incident but took no action, allowing Cavendish to keep his third place behind Kittel and stage runner-up Andre Greipel, another German who won the finishing sprint on Stage 6.