Riders were inadvertently hit with pepper spray from a policeman as he attempted to control protestors
Tour de France riders were faced with an unexpected — and painful — obstacle on Tuesday when they were hit with pepper spray, which caused the iconic race to come to a halt.
The tear gas was used by a policeman attempting to control a group of 20 farmers who had thrown hay bales onto the Tour de France route as the riders approached, in an attempt to protest against cuts to state aid, Agence France-Presse reports. But as the officer shot the spray, the wind picked up the painful irritant and blew it right into the path of several oncoming bikers, who were entering the 18th mile of the 135-mile race/ Organizers were forced to stop the race so the athletes could receive medical attention.
The incident caused a 15-minute delay to the iconic race, and photographs show riders wiping away tears, rubbing their noses and placing drops into their eyes.
“With the headwind, the gas came back to the peloton,” French rider Pierre Latour told the AP. “Lots of us had to stop to drink and douse water over our eyes.”
Among those hit by the spray were four-time champion Chris Froome and the race’s leader, Geraint Thomas, the Associated Press reports.
“I just sprayed some water, water in the eyes, water on the face,” Froome told the AP. “Just felt throat and nose were burning, eyes were burning afterwards. But I think quite a lot of riders were in a similar situation. I think we’re all grateful for temporary neutralization and to clear, to have a couple of (miles) to clear our eyes, nose out, then the racing continued again.”
Fortunately, it seemed many of the racers were able to recover after a short time as well.
“I was lucky that it did not affect me too much,” Thomas said. “I had a bit of tingling in the back of the throat but I used some water to wash it out.”
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme criticized the protestors following the disruption.
“The road should remain free, we are not going to lock the riders in a stadium or on a tennis court,” he told the AP. “The riders’ job is extremely dangerous, they are taking risks every day, people should not block the road, no matter what causes they are fighting for.”
This isn’t the only protest to occur during the storied race this year. Many fans have spoken out against Froome’s participation in the race, as he recently faced a suspension after he was caught using twice the allowed level of salbutamol, an asthma medication that opens up the airways of the lungs.
Despite this, Froome was allowed to race in the Tour de France just before it began. Since then, according to the AP, Froome has been spit on and punched by fans during the race.