Five months have passed since Rohan Dennis abandoned the Tour de France in mysterious circumstances, climbing off the bike seemingly without cause during stage 12, the day before the race’s major time trial.
Australian rider Caleb Ewan has claimed his second victory in this year’s Tour de France by prevailing in a bunch sprint at the end of a crash-hit 16th stage.
The Lotto Soudal rider beat Italian Elia Viviani and Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen, who took second and third place, respectively at the end of a 177km ride around Nimes as temperatures reached 40C on Tuesday.
Ewan, competing in his first Tour de France, is now the only sprint specialist with two wins this year, having already prevailed on the 11th stage in Toulouse last Wednesday.
“To be honest, I felt so bad today during the day. I think the heat really got to me. But I have extra motivation today because my wife and daughter are here. I’m so happy I could win for them,” Ewan said.
“I said before it’s a dream to be here, and it was such a big dream to win one stage. Now I’ve won two, I can’t believe it.
“I had Jasper [De Buyst] on the front with Dylan [Groenewegen] on the wheel with one kilometre to go. QuickStep came past and I lost a few more positions than I wanted to.
“But I looked at this finish at the start of the day and played all the scenarios in my head. One of the scenarios was if I was too far back. I think if you watch, I lay off the wheel and really take a run at it and start sprinting before the rest of the guys. It worked.”
Fellow Australian sprinter Michael Matthew finished sixth in the stage, while Simon Clarke and Richie Porte also crossed the line in the peloton.
Defending champion Geraint Thomas took yet another tumble but escaped unhurt to stay 1:35 behind the overall leader, Julian Alaphilippe of France.
“He’s ok, he fell on his left side. He was checked by the team doctor, it doesn’t seem to be serious,” his Team Ineos sports director Nicolas Portal said.
Thomas was paced back into the bunch by team mates, with Dylan van Baarle receiving a warning for making a u-turn to return to his team leader.
Dane Jakob Fuglsang, who started the day ninth overall, crashed 28.5km from the finish and abandoned the race.
One of the pre-race favourites after winning the Criterium du Dauphine last month, Fuglsang crashed out of the race for the second time in the last three editions.
The Dane’s crash allowed Porte to move in the 10th overall, 6:30 off the lead.
As temperatures soared, three-times world champion Peter Sagan said the riders’ association (CPA) did nothing to protect them after failing to trigger the ‘extreme weather protocol’.
“The CPA should do something to protect us, that’s why we pay them,” said Sagan, who leads the points classification.
The International Cycling Union regulations state that the protocol involves convening a meeting between stakeholders, including organisers, riders and teams, when extreme weather conditions are anticipated.
Tuesday’s stage was the sprinters’ last chance to shine before Sunday’s final stage in Paris as the race now heads to the Alps.
Wednesday’s 17th stage is a hilly 200km ride from the Pont du Gard to Gap before the overall contenders battle it out for the title from Thursday to Saturday.