The Tour de France came to a screeching halt Tuesday when tear gas used by police in an attempt to break up a farmers’ protest accidentally hit riders and stung their eyes.
Tour leaders Geraint Thomas and four-time champion Chris Froome required medical attention after police went to the tear gas when farmers began driving tractors and throwing bales of hay onto the peloton’s path about 18 miles into the roughly 135-mile 16th stage from Carcassonne to Bagneres-de-Luchon.
TV images showed riders pulling over as the race was delayed for about 15 minutes. World champion Peter Sagan also was affected by the spray and poured water over his face. Froome was treated with eye drops and, once it became clear that riders were not being attacked, the race resumed.
Farmers often use the visibility offered by the race to protest, and one Tuesday carried a sign that read “for the Piege region to live.” This time, farmers from the Ariege department in southwestern France were protesting the reduction of European Union funding, according to French media.
This Tour has been marked by incidents involving Team Sky’s Froome, who is second in the general classification, 1 minute 39 seconds behind teammate Thomas. Froome has been spat at and jostled by spectators protesting his participation in the race. Froome was cleared to ride just before the Tour, upon the completion of an investigation into his alleged use of an asthma drug when he won the Spanish Vuelta.
During the climb to Alpe d’Huez, fans threw flares at riders, prompting Tour officials to ban the use of smoke flares. Dave Brailsford, the Team Sky manager, noted that a 21-year-old female member of the team’s staff was spat at by fans along the way.
“Chris’s case was open when we were at the Tour of Italy, and the Italians were fantastic, to be fair to them. The Spanish, fantastic. It just seems to be a French thing,” Brailsford told the Daily Mail. “It’s like a French cultural thing, really, isn’t it? That’s it. I’m not sure that they would have liked their [World Cup soccer] players spat at in Russia.”
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