Paris (AFP) — The French state railway company on Monday demanded police action against “irresponsible” Paris-Roubaix cycle race riders who breached a safety barrier seconds before a high speed train hurtled by.
The SNCF company made an official complaint to French prosecutors saying the action in Sunday’s prestigious race had risked a deadly tragedy.
The last of the riders went through the barrier in northern France about eight seconds before the TGV train arrived at the Waller crossing, 87 kilometers (54 miles) from the end of the so called “Hell of the North” race.
As the barriers came down, several cyclists swerved to avoid them and continued across the tracks:
One rider from the Belgian Lotto team was clipped by a barrier as it came down.
The cyclists who didn’t make it across the tracks waited as the train went through:
John Degenkolb, winner of the race famed for its 26 sections of bone-jarring cobbled roads, was among the group who went through the barrier as it closed. Race organisers said it had not been possible for the leaders to stop in time.
“Several riders deliberately, and against all safety rules, crossed a closed safety barrier,” said a SNCF statement announcing the complaint to French prosecutors.
“Millions of television viewers saw live this extremely grave and irresponsible action which could have been tragic,” the company added.
“A few seconds later, a TGV ran on this line and could have hit the peloton.”
When the last rider had gone through the crossing, a police motorcycle was in place to stop more riders going through.
Normally riders who go through a closed safety crossing are disqualified. But Guy Dobbelaere, president of the jury of race commissioners, defended the action of the riders on Sunday.
“It wasn’t possible for the leading riders to stop sufficiently safely,” said Dobbelaere.
“The peloton was 10 metres away when the barrier started to close.”
Race director Thierry Gouvenou added: “By neutralising the race for a few moments to not penalise those who stopped, we respected the spirit of the rule.
“In theory, those who pass when the barrier is down are thrown out of the race.
“This time, that would have been unjust in respect of those riders who weren’t identified,” said Gouvenou.
Race officials slowed the leading riders so that those held up by the barrier could catch up.
In 2006, three riders were disqualified for going through a closed railway crossing.
The three — Leif Hoste and Peter van Petegem of Belgium and Russian Vladimir Guseve — were less than 10 kilometers (six miles) from the finish and had been disputing top places.
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