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Tour de France TV car crackup brings new rules, investigation

Two days after a French television car caused two riders to crash at the Tour de France, race organizers, team officials, and police are dealing with the aftermath.

Spanish rider Juan Antonio Flecha was clipped by the car during a breakaway in Sunday’s Stage 9. Before tumbling over his handlebars, Mr. Flecha slid into Holland’s Johnny Hoogerland, who flew into a barbed wire fence along the small country road. The duo managed to finish the stage despite their injuries.

The wreck was the second media-related crash of this year’s Tour de France. During last Wednesday’s stage 5, a photo motorcycle knocked Denmark’s Nicki Sorenson off his bike. Last year, Australian sprinter Robbie McEwen ran into a cameraman after crossing the finish line during stage six of the 2010 Tour and was taken to a hospital with back injuries.

Between cycling teams, organizers, police, and media, nearly 170 cars and motorcycles are on the course each stage. Many, like the France Télévisions car that clipped Flecha, are authorized to drive around the peloton throughout the day.

But Tuesday brought new restrictions for media vehicles on the course, including a mandate that cars must keep a two-minute distance from the race when roads permit.

“What we witnessed two days ago was both unacceptable and shocking,” said Jean-François Pescheux, the race’s director of competition.

Flecha, a rider for Britain’s Team Sky, spent Monday morning undergoing X-rays in a local hospital. He arrived at an afternoon press conference heavily bandaged. “I haven’t heard anything from the driver,” he said. “I don’t even know his name.”

The driver is known to French police, however.

Police spent yesterday interviewing witnesses, riders, and even the driver, though neither investigators nor Tour de France officials have released his or her name.

Whether legal action will be taken remains to be seen.

Team Sky director Dave Brailsford said yesterday that his British squad was looking into “all their options.”

“It was plain for everyone to see that the crash shouldn’t have happened and we’re working with organizers to establish what the facts are,” he said. “Once we have the facts, we can decide what we’re going to do, if the police can do something.”

The legal plans of Mr. Hoogerland and his Vacansoleil squad are less clear.

Before Tuesday’s Stage 10 – which was won in a sprint finish by German Andre Greipel – Vacansoleil officials said they would wait until the Tour concludes to decide about any further action.

“Nobody can be blamed for this,” Hoogerland, who received 33 stitches following the spill, told Agence France-Presse. “It’s a horrible accident and I was in it. I said to Flecha, ‘We’re still alive and Wouter Weylandt died in a crash.’”

Mr. Weylandt, a Belgian rider, was killed on a descent during May’s Giro D’Italia.

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