The Tour De France never fails to surprise its audience. However, this year, the excitement reached its pinnacle during Stage 9, coined as the ‘Queen Stage’. Drama ensued right from the start with an unfortunate crash involving Robert Gesink. However, that was just the beginning of what would be a turbulent day, culminating in a horrific accident for Richie Porte. From a sports psychology perspective, we might find some answers…Read more: Tour De France’s Stage 9: The Role of Fatigue in Cyclist Crashes
The Challenging Route from Nantua to Chambéry
Stage 9, stretching from Nantua to Chambéry, was already predicted to be one of this year’s most grueling races. Cyclists had to conquer an overwhelming 4600 meters in elevation. The notorious Mont du Chat posed as the most challenging segment, with an average incline of 10.3% over 8.7 kilometers. After this climb, riders would descend for thirteen kilometers before the final flat stretch. It was during this descent that disaster struck Richie Porte of the BMC Racing Team.
Chris Froome, wearing the iconic yellow jersey, along with a select group including Porte, aimed to catch the leading Warren Barguil. Exhausted from the previous ascents, the group managed to reach the mountain’s peak and began their descent. With Barguil just 30 seconds ahead, the temptation to speed up and take risks was palpable. Yet, descending at average speeds of 70 km/h on narrow, sometimes wet roads, with no protection, is a recipe for danger. One overlooked element amplifying this danger? Fatigue.
The Silent Danger: Fatigue
Research led by Terry McMorris at University College Chichester, UK, revealed that exhaustion drastically impairs our working memory, a cognitive function responsible for focus and concentration. After athletes were subjected to two hours of extreme heat and humidity, their cognitive and physical performance declined notably.
Revisiting Porte’s accident:
it’s evident that a lapse in judgment caused him to overshoot a turn, leading to the crash. It’s plausible that fatigue impacted his working memory, affecting his decision-making and attention during that crucial moment.
Dutch cyclist Bauke Mollema critiqued the Tour’s risky route, stating certain descents were treacherous, especially under inconsistent weather conditions. From a scientific viewpoint, adding severe fatigue to these perilous routes increases the risk of accidents exponentially. Fortunately for Porte, his injuries, while serious, were not career-ending.
While sporting events like the Tour De France aim to challenge athletes, the balance between difficulty and safety should be paramount. The impact of fatigue on cognitive function should be considered when designing such routes.