ASO throw car that hit Team Sky's Flecha out of Tour de France + video

Organisers take action after second incident involving media vehicle in this year's race

by Simon_MacMichael   July 10, 2011  

Flecha hit by car TDF Stage 9 credit Sporza.jpg

Rider safety is back in the spotlight at the Tour de France this evening, with Vaconsleil-DCM rider Johnny Hoogerland claiming “we can still be happy that we’re alive” after he was catapulted into a barbed wire fence when a French TV car veered into the path of Team Sky rider Juan Antonio Flecha and knocked him off his bike.

The incident took place 35km from the end of today’s 208km stage from Issoire to Saint-Flour, won by Rabobank’s Luis Leon Sanchez, who was in a five-strong escape group with Flecha and Hoogerland at the time and narrowly avoided also going down.

Race organisers ASO this evening threw the vehicle concerned off the race. On Wednesday, they had taken similar action after a motorbike had hooked the bike of Denmark’s Nikki Sorensen, the Saxo Bank rider luckily thrown clear as horrified riders yelled at the motorcycle’s rider to stop. 

In a statement this evening, ASO said: “Following the accident which occurred at the 167 km mark... involving the riders Juan Antonio Flecha and Johnny Hoogerland, vehicle Euro Media numbered 800 has been excluded from the Tour de France."

Race director Christian Prudhomme, quoted by AFP, said: “We 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.”

He continued: "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 behaviour is intolerable."

Prudhomme concluded: "We want to apologise for this incident to the teams and the riders involved. Two accidents involving vehicles on the race is two accidents too many."

It remains to be seen whether the French authorities will take any further action against the driver of the car involved - race vehicles are not exempt from the law in France.

Speaking immediately after the stage, Dave Brailsford, Team Principal of Team Sky, said only: “Everyone's emotional now. We'll look at the situation tomorrow and we'll take the matter forward tomorrow."

But in a statement released afterwards, a spokesman for the British ProTeam said: “There is an inherent risk attached to professional cycling, and all teams recognise that racing crashes will, and do, happen.

"However today’s incident, that saw both Juan Antonio Flecha and Johnny Hoogerland knocked from their bike by a media car should not have happened. We are speaking with the race organisers this evening and are confident they will take the appropriate action” – something ASO have clearly done.

“Given the injuries sustained by Juan Antonio to his elbow and knee, it is too early to say if he will continue in this year’s Tour de France. We will make an assessment tomorrow. ”

Hoogerland himself was emotional, tears running down his cheeks as he stood on the podium after being presented with the polka dot jersey, which he had lost to HTC-Highroad’s Tejay Van Garderen yesterday.

Although it was Flecha who was actually struck by the car, Hoogerland appeared to be hurt worse and suffered three deep gashes on his legs after being thrown into the barbed wire fence. Just how bad his injuries were, and indeed how lucky he was to escape even worse damage can be seen from this picture posted on Twitter by Cervelo boss Gerard Vroomen - it isn't for the faint hearted.

Reflecting on the crash, Hoogerland said: “I did what felt like a few somersaults. I don’t know where the car came from. Before I knew it, Flecha was on the ground and there was nothing I could do. I landed on the fence and I looked at my legs and thought, ‘Is this what cycling is about?’ “I have the polka-dot jersey but I’m going to spend the rest day in a lot of pain.”

“It’s horrible,” he continued. “I can blame everyone but I don’t think anyone does this sort of thing on purpose. I think the people in the car will have a very big guilty feeling and they will surely apologize to me and Flecha. 


“Juan Antonio came to me and he apologised,” continued Hoogerland, although of course the Team Sky rider was entirely without fault in the incident.

“Nobody can be blamed for this,” continued the 28-year-old Dutchman. “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,’ he added, referring to the Leopard Trek rider killed in a crash in the Giro d’Italia two months ago yesterday.


The thoughts of many people following today’s stage on TV must have drifted back to that black afternoon in Liguria today when Alexandre Vinoukourov’s Astana team mates were shown helping their badly injured team leader out of a ravine he had crashed into.

The same incident, which took place on a descent with around 100km of today’s stage still to go, also ended the race of Omega Pharma Lotto’s Jurgen Van Den Broeck and Frederik Willems as well as Garmin-Cervelo’s David Zabriskie, and followed several other riders abandoning as a result of earlier crashes on the stage.

Vinokourov, riding his last Tour de France, was reported to have broken his pelvis and femur and is understood to have been transported to hospital in Paris this evening. Van Den Broeck, fifth overall last year, appeared to have broken his collarbone, while Zabriskie’s team manager Jonathan Vaughters confirmed that the rider had fractured his wrist.

25 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Its was so bad it made me wonder if this jerk had somekind of money on the race. Angry

downfader's picture

posted by downfader [196 posts]
10th July 2011 - 22:28

like this
Like (1)

"I can blame everyone but I don’t think anyone does this sort of thing on purpose. I think the people in the car will have a very big guilty feeling and they will surely apologize to me and Flecha"

What a legend.

But its not really good enough is it? Thrown off the race? I would call this gross negligence territory, that driver should be in court.

posted by augusto_sandino [3 posts]
10th July 2011 - 22:43

like this
Like (1)

Yeah, the more you look at the video clip the more stupid it looks - really what was he thinking? Had this not been in a race he would end up in court for driving like this.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4135 posts]
10th July 2011 - 22:51

like this
Like (0)

augusto_sandino wrote:
"I can blame everyone but I don’t think anyone does this sort of thing on purpose. I think the people in the car will have a very big guilty feeling and they will surely apologize to me and Flecha"

What a legend.

But its not really good enough is it? Thrown off the race? I would call this gross negligence territory, that driver should be in court.

They HAVE to ask questions now:

- why so many cars thesedays?
- why are they not detoured more, or water/food/mech stations set up instead (like the old days)?

downfader's picture

posted by downfader [196 posts]
10th July 2011 - 22:51

like this
Like (1)

It was terrible to watch and we can only be thankful that there weren't more serious injuries. There has been more than enough tragedy on the pro tour this year already. Let's hope that all involved recover fully and can get on with what they do best.

posted by carlgrz [51 posts]
10th July 2011 - 22:51

like this
Like (1)

"However today’s incident, that saw both Juan Antonio Flecha and Johnny Hoogerland knocked from their bike by a media car should not have happened. We are speaking with the race organisers this evening and are confident they will take the appropriate action” – something ASO have clearly done.

I'd argue the action from the ASO isn't strong enough. As someone pointed out on twitter the ASO's rules do not negate criminal liabilities. The driver of that car should be answering to the gendarme, not the ASO.

posted by pjt201 [97 posts]
10th July 2011 - 22:55

like this
Like (1)

Totally agree with Tony & pjt201 above. Just being thrown off the tour is not even a slap on the wrist for that kind of driving.

ASO should be fining heavily the entity who controls that vehicle. And if they do not have the authority to do that, then they should be taken to court for dangerous driving.

The driver of that car makes white van drivers in Essexlook good!

~rbx

rbx's picture

posted by rbx [243 posts]
10th July 2011 - 23:53

like this
Like (1)

F**k me that is bad!

If that guy doesn't end up in court there is something just a little bit wrong with French justice.

posted by TheTricksterNZ [1 posts]
11th July 2011 - 0:06

like this
Like (0)

The driver placed himself in a position where he had no choice but to swerve inwards to avoid a tree. As ASO state he ignored an order which led to this incident. It's amazing no one was killed.

Sean

posted by seanieh66 [193 posts]
11th July 2011 - 3:46

like this
Like (1)

All of the above but the bit that I am even more incredulous about is that he didn't even stop.

He must have known what he'd done.

abudhabiChris's picture

posted by abudhabiChris [515 posts]
11th July 2011 - 4:47

like this
Like (0)

Seanieh66: The driver did have an option, which was to brake or slow down. The moto wasn't right behind him.

abudhabiChris: If he didn't know about it at the time (which I agree is hard to believe, the passenger at least must have been aware of it), I'm pretty sure he would have been told about it immediately, if not by race officials (it's unclear whether he was on the radio) then by his TV bosses.

But there was nowhere to stop safely. Speculation, but I imagine he was told to get himself to the finish as soon as he could and wait there.

Not that it's any excuse for what happened, but haven't there been rows in France for a few years now about cutting down these trees that line country roads because of the number of accidents involving people driving into them?

What's also interesting/revealing was the number of tweets from journalists and others actually on the race who said that France 2/3 vehicles had a reputation for being driven dangerously and that an incident like this had been waiting to happen for years.

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8004 posts]
11th July 2011 - 7:24

like this
Like (0)

Simon_MacMichael wrote:
What's also interesting/revealing was the number of tweets from journalists and others actually on the race who said that France 2/3 vehicles had a reputation for being driven dangerously and that an incident like this had been waiting to happen for years.

My thoughts were that banning an individual driver is not enough. This kind of thing comes from an institutional background that the risks (to the cyclists) are worth the rewards (to the TV company). Kicking out France 2/3 might not be possible, but banning them from appying to cover the race in the future (even for a set time) might help send a message.

posted by El Badgerino [12 posts]
11th July 2011 - 9:01

like this
Like (1)

My first thoughts was why are they using such big cars? There was only 2 guys in the car, so why do they need such a massive car?

When I watched a stage last year, I thought the same. The are loads of cars that follow after the riders - journalists etc, in massive autobahn-cruisers. Perhaps ASO should say every needs to drive a, I dunno, a 2CV?

posted by fennesz [83 posts]
11th July 2011 - 9:11

like this
Like (1)

I do hope no-one is seriously suggesting the trees should be felled just because an idiot or two drives his car into them.

Many French roads were built, to facilitate the movement of troops, on the orders of Napoleon Bonaparte, who also ordered the planting of trees to provide shade as they marched. They are part of French culture and history, as well as being part of nature.

If a driver ploughs into one from time to time, then they are really just pursuing a Darwinian quest to enhance the gene pool of those of us who remain. If there were no trees, they would plough into telegraph poles instead, or worse still into more careful drivers' cars.

posted by Paul M [308 posts]
11th July 2011 - 12:47

like this
Like (1)

Like seeing janez brajkovic on the floor, that video produced an unpleasant feeling in the pit of my stomach. Hoogerland was incredibly gracious when ITV's Ned Boulting interviewed him before the presentation.

http://www.itv.com/tourdefrance/2011/news/hoogerland-thankful-to-be-aliv...

He and Flecha are honourable riders and deserve a medal for managing to finish yesterday. The peloton needs more of their kind.

I hope that some changes are made as a result of this. Prudhomme is puffing about safety but the number of vehicles and how they're driven is his responsibility too. I hope they will think more about rider safety. Millar thought that the peloton is faster and "more cuttthroat" now.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [1940 posts]
11th July 2011 - 12:50

like this
Like (1)

Paul M wrote:
I do hope no-one is seriously suggesting the trees should be felled just because an idiot or two drives his car into them.

Many French roads were built, to facilitate the movement of troops, on the orders of Napoleon Bonaparte, who also ordered the planting of trees to provide shade as they marched. They are part of French culture and history, as well as being part of nature.

If a driver ploughs into one from time to time, then they are really just pursuing a Darwinian quest to enhance the gene pool of those of us who remain. If there were no trees, they would plough into telegraph poles instead, or worse still into more careful drivers' cars.

+1

~rbx

rbx's picture

posted by rbx [243 posts]
11th July 2011 - 12:54

like this
Like (1)

The ASO need to review which cars / motorbikes are allowed to go near the riders. Obviously team cars, but then their drivers are experienced.

Agree with other comments, press cars should be diverted if they need to get ahead of the race - much safer for the riders.

Only allowed to pass the riders if given okay from director sportive

Marky

Marky Legs's picture

posted by Marky Legs [107 posts]
11th July 2011 - 13:15

like this
Like (1)

That photo of his wounds is horrific. How he got back in the saddle after that is incredible. Tough and big-hearted guy.

posted by paulfg42 [374 posts]
11th July 2011 - 14:27

like this
Like (1)

tony_farrelly wrote:
Yeah, the more you look at the video clip the more stupid it looks - really what was he thinking? Had this not been in a race he would end up in court for driving like this.

And what would happen in court?

A quick "I fell asleep" or "I dropped my Sat Nav" and they would rule that being dropped from working the Tour was punishment enough. I'd wager that the money the driver will lose from being unable to work that event is a more severe financial penalty than a large number of sentences handed out in bike related cases.

posted by farrell [1391 posts]
11th July 2011 - 14:44

like this
Like (1)

re: the cutting down of trees on French roads well, the French govt seriously suggested it some years back. To be fair there are all sorts of reason why a driver might hit a tree not all of them being the fault of the driver - it's also worth saying that given the choice between hitting a tree and hitting a something else… even a cyclist competing in the Tour de France, most drivers are probably going to chose to hit the something else as was demonstrated yesterday.

A few years back it was I think pretty much national policy in France… and over here? We did the same thing about 50 years ago.

Not that I'm in favour of cutting down trees – it's just that these things are always complicated.

As for Jonny Hoogerland what can you say other than 'Wow' pro bike riders come in for a lot of flak, but when things like this, and Vino's injury, happen the reaction of the riders involved to what's befallen them is so often genuinely humbling.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4135 posts]
11th July 2011 - 14:45

like this
Like (0)

farrell wrote:
tony_farrelly wrote:
Yeah, the more you look at the video clip the more stupid it looks - really what was he thinking? Had this not been in a race he would end up in court for driving like this.

And what would happen in court?

A quick "I fell asleep" or "I dropped my Sat Nav" and they would rule that being dropped from working the Tour was punishment enough. I'd wager that the money the driver will lose from being unable to work that event is a more severe financial penalty than a large number of sentences handed out in bike related cases.

Possibly true in many cases Farrel, this one though was broadcast live around the world and was by any standards a poor piece of driving. Also be be balanced on this the guy who dropped his satnav is looking at jail time - not enough jail time perhaps, but a tad more than a slap on the wrist. You're broader point though can't be argued with sadly.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4135 posts]
11th July 2011 - 14:49

like this
Like (1)

I watched the race live on ITV, and at the end, they show the driver trying to reverse into a parking space, and it was a woman driver.

Please, no women driver jokes ok Tongue

I go great with chips Tongue

posted by tommyketchup [79 posts]
11th July 2011 - 16:39

like this
Like (1)

Once it became too late to brake - a situation almost certainly brought about by carelessness by one or more parties - it came down to a classic split-second choice for the driver: do I (a) lose a wing-mirror on the tree, or (b) take a chance with a cyclist's life. If top pro riders at the Tour de France cannot rely the drivers around them choosing option (a), what chance do we ordinary cyclists have? Except, I suppose, that we know we have to control the situation, by taking the lane, and aren't lulled into a false sense of security by having Christian Prudhomme in a big red Skoda behind us.

It was mighty good of Johnny Hoogerland to accept the driver's apology before he had even given it. I wouldn't have been so forgiving.

posted by handlebarcam [527 posts]
11th July 2011 - 17:22

like this
Like (1)

A screen grab clearly shows the driver missed the tree by a clear yard and more.... appalling driving pure and simple.

cheers m'dears

2011 Rose Pro-SL 3000 Road
2006 Lemond Alpe d'Huez Broken
1997 Marin Sausaulito Urban bimbling/shopper
1980 Orbea project

daviddb's picture

posted by daviddb [120 posts]
11th July 2011 - 22:13

like this
Like (2)

daviddb wrote:
A screen grab clearly shows the driver missed the tree by a clear yard and more.... appalling driving pure and simple.

I agree; there was plenty of room for the car to hug the verge, just as it was doing. It might have bumped up and over the roots, but no biggie.

posted by Cauld Lubter [117 posts]
12th July 2011 - 0:24

like this
Like (1)