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Tour de France heads to the final stages with leader changes and crowd control issues

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

OK. We wanted to catch up with the Tour de France, which wraps up this weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #1: He has had the ride...

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #2: Oh, my goodness.

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #1: ...Of his life - 32 minutes and 36 seconds. Vingegaard gets the first win for his team. He knew it, and he consolidates his lead overall in the Tour de France.

CHANG: That was the call at the end of the 16th stage of the Tour de France on NBC Sports as the reigning Tour de France champion Jonas Vingegaard from Denmark established his dominance over the rest of the pack. This year's event that started on July 1 has seen leadership changes along with struggles with crowd control as riders navigate the road while hundreds of cheering fans were narrowing their route. Patrick Redford is a staff writer at The Defector who covers cycling. Welcome.

PATRICK REDFORD: Hi. Thank you for having me. It's great to be here.

CHANG: Oh, it's great to have you. So where are we exactly in this race? Like, what is left? Tell us.

REDFORD: So we have just finished stage 16. There are 21 stages. And we've had two rest days so far, which means it's just going to be five more days of racing - two more in the mountains, two transitional stages and then, of course, the classic parade into Paris on the last day.

CHANG: Yeah. OK. Well, this race - I mean, it's legendarily grueling. It's over - what? - 2,000 miles, three weeks long. But it's in - but I understand that in the 15th stage, there was quite a pile-up, right? Can you talk about what exactly happened and how that affected the race overall?

REDFORD: Yeah, this was one of the scariest types of crashes you can get, which is, you know, the whole peloton is going at very high speed. They're all bunched together. And it's - you know, if a guy - if someone goes down in front of you, it's really impossible to get out of the way because you're trying to stay clumped for aerodynamic reasons. So a fan stuck out their phone to take a picture, and American rider Sepp Kuss went down hard. Thankfully, he was able to stay in the race and finish the stage. But there have been a number of pretty serious crashes this year and some issues with crowds. Like, two days earlier, Tadej Pogacar was in second, tried to make a big attack, but a race motorbike couldn't get out of his way because there were too many fans on the road. And that may have cost him a few seconds there.

CHANG: Wow. Is this an increasing problem - that crowd control or really, really enthusiastic spectators are crowding the road more often now?

REDFORD: So some element of malignant fan interaction has been kind of a part of the tour since its inception, though definitely in the past few years, the crowds have gotten bigger on the big, high, steep mountains. Like, you'll see these guys racing up these roads that are maybe two bike lengths wide as the fans just pressing around them. I don't know if you remember, but two years ago a fan with a sign that said allez opi-omi, greeting their grandparents, accidentally took out, you know, a quarter of the peloton, caused this huge high-speed crash.

CHANG: Oh, my God.

REDFORD: And the French police actually sent them a hefty fine, briefly arrested them.

CHANG: So what have race officials been saying about how they're best going to try to manage crowd control going forward?

REDFORD: There's - at the ends of stages and at the ends of long climbs, there's usually barriers keeping fans off the road for the last kilometer or three kilometers. But, you know, you can't guard the whole mountain. So at this point, they're just trying to communicate as best as they can with fans. Earlier this year on stage nine, the last four kilometers of that mountain stage were actually raced without fans because the road was too narrow to get anyone up there. So they're trying to be proactive - unclear how successful they're going to be, but there's been a lot of action.

CHANG: That is Patrick Redford, staff writer for The Defector. Thank you so much.

REDFORD: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Gabriel J. Sánchez
Gabriel J. Sánchez is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. Sánchez identifies stories, books guests, and produces what you hear on air. Sánchez also directs All Things Considered on Saturdays and Sundays.
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.