Protest farmers say Tour de France tear gas ‘not us’
Farmers who protested at the start of the 16th stage of the Tour de France have sought to distance themselves from the tear gas that stopped the race and affected riders yesterday afternoon.
Protests by farmers from the Ariège and the Aude disrupted the famous cycling race yesterday (Tuesday July 24), between Carcassonne and Bagnères-de-Luchon, with the 230km stage stopped for over 15 minutes as bales of hay, farmers and sheep blocked the roads.
Riders were also allegedly sprayed in the eyes with tear gas (some reports called the substance "pepper spray") during the commotion.
British rider Chris Froome, whose participation in this year’s race has been controversial due to a positive drug test for the banned substance salbutamol, was one of the riders affected by the gas. He was treated with eye drops and water at the scene.
Now, farmers who staged at least some of the protests have said that they did not use pepper spray or tear gas, and were armed only with water bottles, hay bales, and sheep.
Loïc Albert, a farmer from the Ariège who took part in the demonstrations, spoke to news source France 2: “I heard that the Tour stopped a little bit further along from us because of gas, but that wasn’t us. We only had bottles of water.”
He admitted that the protests had sought to disrupt the race, but not attack the riders individually.
He said: “Our objective was the stop the Tour de France, so that we could get a response. We have been asking questions of the minister for Agriculture for six months, and we have not had any replies. We only wanted to let them go once we had some replies.”
The farmers claim that their region has been unfairly kept as a “deprived zone”, and that they stand to lose €7,000-€8,000 in income as a result.
Despite the race stoppage, the farmers say their protest was only partially successful, and accused the police of using damaging sprays.
Mr Albert said: “There were around 200 sheep, tractors, and hay bales to disrupt the route. Unfortunately though, we got sprayed by the law enforcement, and they also sprayed the sheep. We were able to place some hay bales on the road, but that’s it.
“But the gas was not us; we didn’t want to hurt anyone.”
After the protests, the race continued, with Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe taking victory of the stage - his second this year so far.
The short-but-challenging 65km 17th stage begins today, taking the riders from Bagnères-de-Luchon to Saint-Lary-Soulan, including many difficult ascents.
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