COLMAR, France — Two riders in the Tour de France sustained minor injuries Friday in the 13th stage when they were struck by shots from what was most likely a BB gun, Tour officials said.
Julian Dean, a New Zealander on the Garmin-Slipstream team, and Oscar Freire, a Spaniard on the Rabobank team, were hit with pellets about 102 miles, or 164 kilometers, into the 124-mile stage. They had been riding in a group of 20 to 30 cyclists at the back of the pack when three shots rang out from the roadside. Both riders finished the stage and were expected to continue racing.
The pellet grazed Dean’s right index finger, causing some bruising and bleeding. The bleeding had stopped by the time he finished the race and reached the team bus, said Matt White, a race director for the Garmin team.
Freire was hit in the leg, and the pellet was embedded there. Freire’s team doctor removed it.
Tour officials said that the gendarmerie, the national police force, was investigating the incident.
“It’s not the worst thing I ever heard of, but it’s definitely the weirdest,” said White, adding that fans had thrown things, like eggs, at fans in the past. “But seriously, the boys could have been really hurt if they were hit in the wrong part of their body or in the face. Or if it caused a crash. But Julian’s quite tough. He didn’t really complain. It was just another day at the office.”
Officers from the gendarmerie are set up along the route of each stage, in order to ensure the safety of riders and fans. They also often lock hands along the course after the finish line, so riders can get to their team buses without incident.
But on the Tour’s open course — of 2,150 miles, or 3,459.5 kilometers — it is impossible to protect the riders at every turn.
Perhaps the most well-known incident of a spectator injuring a fan occurred in 1975, when Eddy Merckx, the Belgian rider and five-time Tour champion, was punched in the stomach.
“The beauty of the sport is that fans can get so close to the event,” White said. “When one idiot does something like he did today, there’s not much we can do about it.”
I think it’s pretty amazing that in over 100 years of racing and 90+ editions of the race, that there really haven’t been any major incidents of spectators attacking riders; the Merckx incident is not only the most well-known such incident, but is also the last intentional attack of a rider by a spectator; there have been no similar incidents in the last 34 years until today.
Here’s hoping that Julian Dean’s and Oscar Freire’s injuries really are more of a small annoyance than anything more, and that the perpetrator doesn’t decide to come back again tomorrow with his BB gun, or worse.