It can feel, at times, like cameras are omnipresent at the Tour de France, capturing every single moment from the start line to Paris. But some action does escape the medias lens. One such moment, perfectly suited to the general good vibes of this years tour, took place over the course of Wednesday’s Stage 17.
The story involves a former world champion and a four time Tour de France champion, but in a Tour story line that few would have predicted.
Rescue on the Col du Portet
After finishing the stage, Philippe Gilbert stopped on his descent from Col du Portet to help rescue a fan that had fallen down into a ravine. Lotto Soudal’s former world champion, with help from four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome, spend nearly 20 minutes assisting the fan to safety.
“On the descent, after crossing the finish line, I was following a cyclotourist,” Gilbert related. “He missed a turn and he found himself twenty meters below. We stopped to rescue him with Chris Froome and Christopher Juul-Jensen”
The events happened entirely off camera, with the story only coming to light when Gilbert was interviewed by Belgian TV station RTBF. Gilbert said his rescue efforts were a sort of thank you to the fans for being so supportive on the climb.
Gilbert’s show of appreciation to the fans
“On the Col de Portet, I was enormously encouraged by the fans, and I thank fans for that. It was heartwarming,” said Gilbert, who ascended the mountain with Rick Zabel and Marco Haller over half an hour behind stage winner Tadej Pogacar. “We really enjoyed the atmosphere. I can tell you there were a lot of things going on on the climb!”
There are so many story lines already in this year’s Tour de France. Gilbert and Froome’s exploits in assistance of a spectator add another one. And one that nearly escaped notice.
“These are facts that are not known to the press,” added Gilbert, adding “But yesterday I spent almost twenty minutes helping this man!”
In the end, the group of pro riders managed to get the fan back to safety, and get help.
“We called for help because he was still badly messed up. These are the experiences we also live.”
Gilbert’s own scare
That is especially true for Gilbert. In 2018, he was rescued in similar fashion after going over the edge while descending the Col de Portet d’Aspet, where he had been leading on Stage 16.
Cycling has always prided itself on being a sport where there are no barriers between fans and the stars. The first week of this year’s Tour saw the unfortunate side of that arrangement. Wednesday’s events show the connection between riders and the fans are closer than ever.