Chaos has reigned over the professional peloton on the second stage of the Criterium du Dauphine as riders were caught in a massive hail storm in the closing stages.
Shortly after the top riders – led by race-leader and Tour de France favourite Primoz Roglic – crossed the finish line on France’s Col de Porte, the storm hit, catching the remnants of the peloton out in the open.
Footage shot from inside team cars showed some riders abandoning their bikes and running for cover as the hail pelted them, turning the road into a blanket of ice.
After the race, Deceuninck-QuickStep rider Tim Declercq posted a photo of his back, featuring angry-looking red welts from where the hail hit him.
His comment “as if le Dauphine was not painful enough for the legs” summed up the situation perfectly.
He was far from the only victim.
Jumbo-Visma’s time-trial specialist Tony Martin was seen helping a fan scramble up a hill to take shelter under a tree, and under the supporter’s inflatable raft.
Guy Niv, a rider for Israel Start-Up Nation, said “it was quite painful” and “it was not the best experience”.
“Normally when you have this kind of hail stone you just stay home,” he said.
His teammate Nil Politt said he had to take shelter under a supporter’s tent on the side of the road.
Even riders who had finished the race were caught up in the storm, with the post-race presentations halted when the inflatable stage blew over as reigning Tour de France champion Egan Bernal was handed the white young rider’s jersey.
His teammate Chris Froome’s post-race TV interview was also affected when a crack of thunder shocked the five-time Tour de France winner, leading a TV journalist to comment “the gods have spoken”.
The Criterium du Dauphine, which takes place annually in the south-east of France, acts as the traditional pre-Tour de France warm-up race.
This year’s Tour, delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, will begin on August 29.
Some of the Criterium du Dauphine stages take place on the same roads that the peloton will race on in the Tour weeks later.
Form in the five-stage Dauphine is often used as a barometer for how a rider will fair in the three-week, 21-stage Tour de France.
Froome, who is attempting to ride himself into form ahead of the 2020 Tour de France, is back racing after recovering from near-catastrophic injuries he suffered when crashing on a reconnaissance of the 2019 Dauphine.
He faces an uphill battle to even be selected in the Team Ineos Tour squad to support Bernal and 2018 champion Geraint Thomas after finishing 14 minutes behind race leader Roglic.
Team Ineos, which has won seven of the past eight Tour de France titles including under its previous iteration of Team Sky, faces a battle of its own to deal with Roglic’s powerful Jumbo-Visma squad.
Richie Porte, one of six Australians in the race, finished in the lead group 10 seconds behind the stage winner.