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SAINT-FLOUR, France (AFP) — Furious Tour de France organizers threw a television car off the race for hitting two riders on Sunday during the event’s crash-marred ninth stage.
Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) had been part of a five-man breakaway vying for victory in the 208km stage from Issoire to Saint-Flour in the Massif Central.
That is, until they were hit by a passing television car 35km from home.
Hoogerland was sent somersaulting into a fence while Flecha hit the deck at full speed.
A statement from Amaury Sports Organization (ASO) said: “Following the accident which occurred at the 167km mark … involving the riders Juan Antonio Flecha and Johnny Hoogerland, vehicle Euro Media numbered 800 has been excluded from the Tour de France.”
Tour director Christian Prudhomme said the driver had failed to heed directives on the race’s official radio channel.
“I announced on Radio Tour, which is the channel everyone should be listening to, that all cars should pull to the side and give priority to the team cars,” said Prudhomme.
“The car previously received the order from the race direction not to pass and let the Europcar team manager get through to the breakaway to give Thomas Voeckler the bottle he was asking for.
“They did not take that order into account … and caused the crash of both riders. This behavior is intolerable.”
The television company involved apologized for the incident.
“France Television apologizes to the riders, the teams and to the ASO for the accident during the ninth stage of the Tour de France which was caused by a technical assistance vehicle covering the race,” said a statement. “France Television will respect fully the measures which will be taken by the ASO to improve safety.”
It is the second such accident on the race.
On Wednesday, Saxo Bank-Sungard’s Nicki Sorensen was lucky to escape serious injury when a motorbike carrying a photographer tried to squeeze past the peloton through a non-existent gap on the side of the road.
The motorbike knocked him to the ground and dragged his bike along for a short stretch. He is still in the race.
Prudhomme added: “We want to apologize for this incident to the teams and the riders involved. Two accidents involving vehicles on the race is two accidents too many.”
Flecha and Hoogerland got back up to finish the stage, although they trailed home more than 16 minutes off the pace.
Sky had already lost yellow jersey hope Bradley Wiggins to a crash on stage 7 when the triple Olympic champion broke his collarbone. After Flecha’s brush with disaster, team chief Dave Brailsford had little to say.
“Everyone’s emotional now. We’ll look at the situation tomorrow and we’ll take the matter forward tomorrow,” said Brailsford.
Hoogerland wept as he stood atop the podium to receive the King of the Mountains’ polka-dot jersey thanks to the points he had pocketed on the climbs throughout the stage.
But with the memory of Wouter Weylandt’s death from a crash in May’s Giro d’Italia still fresh in the minds of many, the Dutchman was looking at the bigger picture.
“I think the people in the car will have a very big guilty feeling and they will surely apologize to me and Flecha,” he said.
“We can still be happy that we’re alive. Nobody can be blamed for this. It’s a horrible accident and I was in it. But I said to Flecha, ‘We’re still alive and Wouter Weylandt died in a crash.'”