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The Guinness of Oz: Model behavior

The Tour de France nearly passed without one finish line exploding into mayhem. But then along came Friday’s finish to stage 18 with a violent clash between police and media. The chaos really started moments before Spaniard Pablo Lastras led home the first three riders into St. Maixent-l’École, just as the traditional jockeying for positions began between officials, media, team soigneurs in the finishing area. To be fair, the local police are unaccustomed to Tour finishes — especially ones in such a tight areas as Friday’s. But experienced or not, they were not going to be compromised.

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By Rupert Guinness

Our three German runway queens had an easier time of it on the road to Luz Ardiden

Our three German runway queens had an easier time of it on the road to Luz Ardiden

Photo: AFP

The Tour de France nearly passed without one finish line exploding into mayhem.

But then along came Friday’s finish to stage 18 with a violent clash between police and media.

The chaos really started moments before Spaniard Pablo Lastras led home the first three riders into St. Maixent-l’École, just as the traditional jockeying for positions began between officials, media, team soigneurs in the finishing area.

To be fair, the local police are unaccustomed to Tour finishes — especially ones in such a tight areas as Friday’s. But experienced or not, they were not going to be compromised. And they weren’t, as those journalists who tried to slip through their cordon of security discovered. When push came to shove, the mêlée suddenly developed into an ugly spree of punches and headlocks and, inevitably, a chorus of screams and abuse between all.

Reports defending their action said police were on strict alert to be wary of civil action or protests, such as the many that have made their appearance on the Tour this year. We’ve seen it all in 2003. From a public antagonized by the government extending the age of eligibility of a pension by two years, to those calling for the release from jail of agricultural activist José Bove to the Basque nationals (a worst case scenario, with their terrorist organization, ETA, whose acronym has been plastered on cars and on banners ever since the Pyrénées).

Not that it ended there. While all those involved left the scene to either cool down or sort out their differences away from an area which was to be swamped in 20 or so minutes by the main pack; the drama suddenly reignited when a photographer, accompanied by three unaccredited top models, beckoned his girls to come to the finish area for a fashion shoot.

To say it was an amazing scene is an understatement. Only moments before accredited media were coming to blows with police. And here, amid mayhem and imminent arrival of the pack seconds after fighting out a bunch sprint, their trailing team cars and the ever-anxious media weaving in between bikes and bodies; were three rake-thin, made-up queens of the catwalk waiting for orders.

Too bad they got them from both officials and their German-speaking paparazzi prince and the orders conflicted. You guessed it: one order was to get the @$#% out of the area, and the other was to get the #%^$& back. Like yo-yos, they followed both commands as minutes ticked by, bunch neared and bystanders who saw the previous ruckus prepared for another. Like mannequins, they were finally escorted out — and you guessed it again, by as many as six local gendarmes!

Topping it off, there was the bedlam of crowds swarming the team bus area. Albeit, it was all good tempered and well intended, but it still made a journalist’s scrap for quotes a tough one at the end of a tough Tour. Still, without fans like today’s the Tour would not be the event it is. And were it not, chances are none of us would be here today.