It was a nightmarish day for FDJ-Suez-Futuroscope on Stage 2 of the Tour de France Women, as Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig crashed out of the race and Marta Cavalli retired from the race altogether.
The two leaders of the French team both touched the bridge as a series of crashes caused chaos in the windswept final kilometers of the stage to Provins.
It was Cavalli, the Giro Donne runner-up and one of the pre-race favourites, who fell first and came out the worst in a horrific crash to watch. 25 km from the finish, there was a fall in the peloton and, despite slowing down to avoid a pile-up, the Italian was knocked out from behind by another rider.
Australian national champion Nicole Frain (Parkhotel-Valkenburg) was returning to the peloton after a previous crash and apparently didn’t see the ensuing pile-up in front of her, careering in Cavalli and taking the Italian’s bike from under her.
Cavalli, who landed on her back, stayed on the ground for a few minutes then got up and even came back up to continue rolling. However, it was quickly decided that she could not continue the race and she stopped with tears on her face.
“It was a big impact. It’s hard, we don’t want to play [around]”, said team manager Stephen Delcourt with emotion after the stage.
“She hesitated and wanted to continue but the team said no, we don’t want to play with a rider’s life. Cycling is just part of life, not the priority.
“Okay we may be losing a battle for the race but the most important thing is Marta and we support her as a priority, and for the sport we come back stronger tomorrow.”
Delcourt confirmed that Cavalli was on his way to hospital for scans which will reveal the extent of his injuries.
“It’s really hard to see pictures like that. Can you imagine if it’s a member of your family when you see that,” he asked.
“Marta was not in a good position, she did not want to take any risks at that time [of the race]. A rider came back after a crash, she didn’t see Marta during the second crash, and she arrives at 50km/h and boom. I have no words. When you see images like this, it’s really difficult.”
Less than five kilometers later, the co-leader of FDJ, Uttrup Ludwig was on the bridge, in another accident in the peloton. The Danish champion was not as badly injured and climbed back into the saddle to launch a desperate chase with her remaining teammates.
They never made contact with the main field, who themselves finished half a minute behind on a dangerous late break that included overall contenders in Elisa Longo Borghini and Kasia Niewiadoma.
Uttrup Ludwig lost about 90 seconds to the duo and 1:04 to pre-race favorite Annemiek van Vleuten, who finished in the main pack.