The Tour de France was thrown into chaos on Friday after a sudden summer storm turned Stage 19 in the Alps into winter in just minutes.
The riders were flying down hairpin bends down the Col de l’Iseran – the Tour’s highest point at 9,090 feet – when a hailstorm hit lower down the valley. The sudden and violent storm caused a landslide and covered the lush summer pastures with a dusting of white, making the roads too dangerous for the cyclists to continue.
TV coverage showed a snowplow trying to clear the road of snowy slush, awash with streams of water and ice, as the riders were speeding toward that section of the stage.
It immediately became clear that the road was unpassable on a bike.
The leading governing body ASO made an on-the-spot decision that the safety of the riders had to come first and quickly stopped the race. Tour director Christian Prudhomme immediately announced that times for the stage would be taken at the top of the mountain.
The stoppage threw the race into chaos and even changed the leaderboard for the coveted yellow jersey.
Frenchman Julian Alaphlippe, who had held the yellow jersey for much of this year’s Tour, lost the lead to Colombian rising star Egan Bernal.
The youngest rider of the tour – a pure climber – snatched the coveted tunic with a tremendous attack on the punishing climb to the Col de l’Iseran. He was 2 minutes, 7 seconds faster than Alaphlippe and it was enough to wipe away the Frenchman’s race lead.
“I gave it all, I don’t have any regret,” Alaphlippe said. “I’ve been beaten by stronger than me.”
The unprecedented stoppage sent a shockwave through what has been the most exciting Tour in decades. Although Bernal was all smiles as he stepped into an Ineos car, other contenders including Alaphlippe were clearly disappointed. The French rider waved his left arm in disdain while Colombian rider Rigoberto Uran looked angry.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.