Riders hurt in Tour de France shooting

Two hit by small calibre bullets in suspected random attack in Vosges region

The Tour de France
Saturday 18 July 2009 00:00
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The Tour de France was thrown into disarray yesterday after an unknown attacker fired a gun at riders during stage 13 from Vittel to Colmar.

Two riders, the triple World Champion Oscar Freire of Spain and the New Zealander Julian Dean, received minor injuries in the attack on cycling's top event. Both riders completed the 200km stage through the Vosges region of north-east France which was won by German Heinrich Haussler and led by Italian Rinaldo Nocentini.

Team reports later said that Freire had been shot in the muscle region in his upper thigh, while Dean had been struck in the right thumb. They were hit by bullets of a very small calibre, possibly from an air-rifle.

Freire removed the bullet himself during the stage and handed it to the team doctor afterwards.

The shooting is thought to have been random, given riders were descending a mountain col at 60km/h through mist and heavy rain.

Another rider, the former Spanish national champion and Freire's team-mate Juan Manuel Garate, said later he had heard three shots. Race organisers ASO said they did not want to make an official statement until police had investigated the incident.

Attacks on bike riders are rare but the seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong has often expressed concerns about rider security.

The American favourite for the 2009 race has a two-man police escort before and after the race, provided by the organisers,which has deterred any potential attackers. During the race, he has no such direct protection.

If professionals cyclists become a shade paranoid about Colmar, a sleepy wine-producing town in Alsace-Lorraine, after the latest attack it could be understandable – the last time the Tour came under assault from spectators also happened in the area.

Eight years ago, after a stage won in Colmar by the French idol Laurent Jalabert, an enraged spectator drove his car through the race barriers into the finish area.

The spectator had been denied access to Jalabert by race security so opted to take the area by force, injuring four people before he was arrested. The Tour used the winner's podium as a makeshift ward before the injured were rushed to hospital.

Other attacks on bike races include fans throwing pepper at cyclists during a Tour of France in 1999 and a British holidaymaker hurling rocks at cyclists during a Tour of Spain – which earned the Briton a police-escorted trip on the next ferry back to the UK.

In the UK, the most extreme assault happened this May when tintacs were strewn over the road during a the Etape Caledonia, in Scotland, damaging bicycles and emergency vehicles.

Riders attacking the public is not unknown either: when protesters stopped a stage of the Paris-Nice bike race in the 1980s, Bernard Hinault got off his bike and punched one of them, who hit the deck. The race continued.

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