Stage 16 of the Tour de France was dramatically stopped today with 187km still to go after the police decided to use tear gas to move a group of protesting French farmers who had blocked the road with bales of hay.
Team Dimension Data tweeted out the news, adding that some of the tear gas had actually gotten into the eyes of the riders, saying: “The police had to use tear gas on the protesting farmers... some of which has gone into the eyes of the riders, so race has stopped for now.”
Whether the police had to use tear gas isn’t entirely clear, but they certainly did, and it’s lead to some truly stunning images including one of Geraint Thomas, the race leader and yellow jersey, appearing to be wiping tear gas out of his eyes, and of protestors dramatically being tear gassed by the famously hard-handed Gendarmes.Tweet
These are images not likely to be forgotten soon by the cycling community.
Here’s a reminder of some other times that the Tour has been famously protested over the 115 year history of the race, whether by fans, activists or riders (usually, Bernard Hinault).
1. The Infamous 1998 Tour de France Doping Protests
Marco Pantani was the man who would win the 1998 Tour de France, but it is remembered more for the drama - the Festina Affair, the subsequent raids, arrests and rider protests along the way as the doping in the sport came to the fore.
Laurent Jalabert famously stated: "whoever wins this Tour will be the King of the Dopers" as he quit the race. His sports director Manolo Saiz was even more outspoken, and concerningly graphic, adding: "I have shoved my finger up the Tour's arse".
This was the same Tour where the TVM team lead a protest on the startline after their hotel was raided by police the night before, and both riders and staff were taken into custody, TVM saying "the police were acting like Nazis". They were one of many teams to receive this treatment over the course of Le Tour.
It was a Tour de France that would almost see the sport of road cycling implode completely.
2. The Mysterious Tour de France 2012 Thumbtack Incident
In 2012 a random spectator thought it would be a good idea to cover the road ahead of the Tour de France with thumbtacks, thus giving over 30 of the riders in the peloton (over half of the 50-odd there) a puncture, and near enough bringing the race to a halt.
Those hit by the tacks included Cadel Evans and race leader at the time, our very own Sir Bradley Wiggins (who was just regular old Bradley Wiggins at that point) called for the peloton to wait while it was sorted.
The funny thing about this one was that nobody knew who, or why, the tacks were thrown, meaning it was not abundantly clear what the protest was against. Cycling in general perhaps?
Tour technical director Jean-Francois Pescheux would go on to say: “We don’t know who it was. Nobody saw anything”, which - while we don't want to point any fingers - sounds exactly like the kind of thing the culprit would say.
3. The Chris Froome Protests
Some people like Chris Froome. Others really, really, really do not like him. It’s no secret that the Kenyan-born cyclist isn’t the most popular man in France.
Ahead of the 2018 edition of the Tour, when Froome still had the salbutamol affair hanging over his head (which has since been dropped by the UCI), the last French winner of Le Tour (in 1985), former cycling hero Bernard Hinault, even said that riders should protest the fact the race was allowing Froome to compete at all. Team Sky replied that he didn’t know what he was talking about, calling him “irresponsible” and “uneducated”, but for a day or so, it looked like the race organisers actually might not let him compete, something which the anti-doping bodies dropping their case quickly sorted.
Even before this though, Froome has had a tough time, with protestors hitting the cyclist with urine in 2015 on the Tour and one fan on the stage up Alpe d’Huez this year even taking a swipe at the Team Sky rider.
4. The 1987 Tour de France Split Stage Protest
It may be a cliche that the French love to strike, but if there’s one man to whom it holds true, it seems to be Bernard Hinault.
Not only did the legendary cyclist, who has won the Tour five times, call for a rider’s protest against Froome, he was also a pivotal part of a riders’ protest during his heyday on Le Tour, in the 1987 edition of the race when the peloton protested the decision of authorities to try and make riders do a split stage, with one stage in the morning and another in the afternoon.
If you think Bernard is always on the side of the protestors though, you'd be wrong. He's actually kind of like cycling's answer to Batman. An anti-hero of sorts. On seeing a protestor jump onto the podium at the end of a stage in 2008 on the Tour de France, Hinault, working for race organisers ASO, leapt up to shove the protestor off.
This is a man who does not bottle his emotions. A man who, when asked by a journalist if he feels like he should talk to his fans a little more, responded: "I race to win, not to please people". A charming man indeed.
5. The Almost Protests of Le Tour de France
As well as a lot of people actually protesting, there have been various occasions on which people have threatened to protest Le Tour de France, before in fact changing their minds and not going ahead with it at all.
These include the wine producers of the Aude region who planned to block the way of the race in July 2016, furious that a world famous symbol of France had chosen a foreign wine brand for its partner, the Dutch police unions of 2015, who were going to block the Tour de France in protest over wages but backed down after the government began legal action to stop them, and the "flamboyant, shirtless anti-gay protesters" of 2013, who also, alas, never (to our knowledge) appeared.
You May Also Like