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Cycling: Racing takes back seat as Tour mourns terror victims
[Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, FRANCE] The country's favourite yearly sporting spectacle rolled on but no-one was in celebratory mood at the Tour de France's 13th stage time-trial following the Nice terror attack.
Tom Dumoulin won but couldn't even force himself to break into a smile, while Chris Froome, who extended his overall lead, was visibly emotional and refused to answer 'sporting' questions.
The decision was made early on to maintain the day's time-trial despite at least 84 people dying when a man drove a heavy goods vehicle into crowds who had been watching a fireworks display on Nice's famous Promenade des Anglais.
Dumoulin said racing on was the right decision but Tour organisers decided to dispense with the usual festive atmosphere, declaring a day of mourning.
"It made me very sad when I woke up this morning. I wondered if the Tour would continue or not," said Dumoulin.
"It's horrific but it's a good decision to keep racing. We cannot let the terrorists decide how we should be living." It was a decision that was only taken following a crisis meeting between Tour organisers ASO, local government officials and both the gendarme police and the country's GIGN anti-terrorist special forces.
"We want this day to be dignified in hommage to the victims," said Tour director Christian Prudhomme ahead of the start of the stage.
"It's a day of mourning for France and a day of mourning for the Tour de France." Security was ramped up on the stage with 600 members of various police forces deployed along the time-trial route to block all access roads leading to it.
There was a muted atmosphere amongst spectators as riders battled not only with their emotions.
Froome handled the conditions, and the occasion, well and put time into all his major rivals after finishing second on the 37.5km stage from Bourg Saint Andeol to La Caverne du Pont d'Arc.
He ended the day with a 1min 47sec lead over surprise Dutch contender Bauke Mollema, with young Briton Adam Yates continuing to impress in third, now 2:45 down.
But after the race, Froome refused to discuss the Tour and instead gave a single statement about the attacks.
He said he felt particularly affected as he lives in Monaco, a short way along the Mediterranean coast from Nice.
"It's pretty close to home for me, I do a lot of training on those roads," said the 31-year-old Briton.
"To see the Promenade (des Anglais) the way it was yesterday evening, with bodies all over the road... it was horrific scenes." For others it brought into context just how vulnerable an event like the Tour can be, attracting thousands of fans to cram together along the roadside to watch each and every stage.
Those fans caused a crash involving Froome on Thursday's 12th stage that finish on the iconic Mont Ventoux climb but for terrified Portuguese rider Rui Costa, their presence is a danger as they are soft targets.
"I don't feel safe here in France," the former world champion wrote on Facebook.
"Cycling brings thousands of people together in the same place - it's an easy target. I'm afraid for the cyclists and for the fans." Despite the Nice attacks, some were still focused on what they'd come to France for.
"Maybe in a couple of years I can come back and fight for the (overall) win but I'll just take it day by day and keep trying for the stage win," said Yates.