By Julien Pretot
PONTIVY, France (Reuters) - A string of heavy crashes reduced the Tour de France peloton to a heap of wounded bodies on Monday, as a leading sports director called for greater safety at the world's greatest cycling race.
Two days after a spectator holding a cardboard sign and looking the other way sent Tony Martin and a large section of the peloton tumbling to the deck, Geraint Thomas and Primoz Roglic and others took more tumbles in separate incidents involving no fans at all.
But it was two more pile-ups in a nervy finale on narrow roads that were the main cause for concern in the peloton.
On a left-hand curve with four kilometres left in the 182.9-km stage from Lorient, a massive crash took down among others France's Arnaud Demare and Bahrain Victorious team leader Jack Haig, who was forced to abandon the race.
Then in the final metres Australian Caleb Ewan, one of the top sprinters, took a heavy fall at high speed and broke his collarbone, also forcing him out of the race.
The two late incidents triggered an angry reaction from Demare's Groupama FDJ team manager Marc Madiot.
"I am a father. There are many families who watch the Tour de France on television. There are many children who watch the Tour de France. There are many mothers who watch the Tour de France on television," he said.
"Well, tonight, I don't want my kid to be a professional cyclist, my wife doesn't want my kid to ride a bike, and many families don't want their kids to ride a bike after what we have seen today.
"We've been talking about this for years, but now we have to find solutions. We can't go on like this, it's not cycling anymore. The bend with 150 metres to go... What state is Caleb Ewan in? And the others? So we have to change, we have to be able to say that it's not working anymore."
Madiot listed things that could change to make it safer for the cyclists as they ride along, with constant team orders coming through their earpieces, sometimes on dangerous roads and on light, fragile bikes.
"Maybe we need to adapt the equipment, maybe we need to remove the earpieces, maybe we need to do a lot of things. But it has to be done. If we don't change anything, we'll have deaths," he explained.
A leading sports director who has taken part in several editions of the Tour lashed out at the organisers for the way they designed the stage's finale through narrow, winding roads.
"Unbelievable to send riders on such roads in the last 20 kilometres. It's a circus. Clearly they don't care about the riders' health," the sports director, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
Tour de France organisers were not available for comment.
International Cycling Union (UCI) president David Lappartient, who followed the stage in an official organisers' car, said the roads were in good shape and not too narrow.
He said the stakes of riding in the Tour de France made the whole peloton more nervous and error-prone.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Hugh Lawson)