On the 14th of July 2003, the ninth stage of the Tour de France would see the riders race from Le Bourg d’Oisans to Gap. Going into the stage, Joseba Beloki sat in second place overall, just 40 seconds behind Lance Armstrong. That day, the riders would negotiate the Col de Manse before descending to the finish in Gap.
Beloki had finished in second place in the Tour the year before, and in both 2000 and 2001, he had finished in third place overall. It was looking like he would be Armstrong’s biggest rival for victory once again. However, on the descent of the Col de Manse, it all went wrong for Beloki.
Coming into a bend on the descent, Beloki’s bike locked up, throwing him to the ground. It was immediately obvious that the crash was serious as Beloki lay on the ground in agony. Armstrong had been directly behind Beloki and had to take evasive action. He headed straight on across a field and after dismounting and jumping across a ditch, he rejoined the group he had been part of.
Beloki meanwhile was surrounded by team mates, unable to move. It later emerged that he broken his right femur, elbow and wrist, and was forced to leave the Tour. It seemed that the crash had been caused by melting tarmac.
“All the corners were melting, there was asphalt but it was bubbling. He (Beloki) was racing the race, and racing aggressively,” said Armstrong afterwards.
Beloki never recovered from that crash. For the 2004 season, he signed for the French team Brioches La Boulangère, but left mid-season, citing incompatibility with the team. He would subsequently sign for Saunier-Duval and then Liberty-Seguros, but only finished the Tour once more, when he was 75th in 2005. The following year, Beloki was implicated in the Operación Puerto scandal and didn’t start the Tour. He retired at the end of that season.