The Bahrain-Merida team have confirmed to Cyclingnews that they are considering legal action against the organisers of the Tour de France after team leader Vincenzo Nibali was brought down and fractured a vertebrae in a chaotic incident on the Alpe d’Huez.
Nibali was forced to quit the Tour de France, ending his and Bahrain-Merida’s chances of overall victory. The crash was not captured by live television coverage, and it was initially suspected that the incident had been caused by police motorbikes slowing in front of Nibali.
However, footage shot by fans on the roadside later suggested that Nibali had fallen after his bike was hooked by the strap of a spectator’s camera. The presence of the police motorbikes, the many fans narrowing the space in the road and flare smoke reducing visibility all compounded events.
Nibali has been told to take 15 days complete rest but could still ride the Vuelta a Espana and so target the UCI World Championships Road Race in Innsbruck in late September.
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme apologised in person to Nibali after he arrived back at the team hotel on Alpe d’Huez after hospital X-rays confirmed his vertebra fracture, and UCI president David Lappartient has also called the team.
Prudhomme also publicly called on fans to respect the riders. However, team manager Brent Copeland confirmed that Bahrain-Merida are considering legal action.
"I’ve spoken to both Christian Prudhomme and UCI president David Lappartient at length. They apologised and assured us that safety will be improved in future. But, for us, that’s not enough; we’ve suffered huge damage as a team. It’s not acceptable. That’s why our lawyers are studying the possibility of legal action,” Copeland told Cyclingnews, repeating what he told La Gazzetta dello sport and Tuttobiciweb.
“ASO has insurance for this kind of thing and we’ve suffered clear and important damage as a team. Vincenzo is our team leader, he’s the patrimony of our team and of the sport as a whole, as Prudhomme and Lappartient have said.
“It’s true that there were barriers where the incident happened but there seems to be clear negligence. The fans invaded the road and the Gendarmerie didn’t do what they should. They also didn’t do anything about the people lighting flares. It’s not easy to control more 600,000 fans as there were the other day, but as they’re so powerful and so well organised, some things have to be managed firmly.”
Don’t stay behind Froome because it’s dangerous
The AIGCP team association expressed its concerns about rider safety to Lappartient in a letter before the start of the Tour de France, concerned that the animosity raised by Chris Froome’s salbutamol case could spark some kind of fan reaction during the Tour de France. It seems Lappartient has yet to formally respond to the AIGCP’s concerns.
Froome and Team Sky have been booed numerous occasions, but spectators were far more aggressive on Alpe d’Huez. One spectator tried to hit Froome on the climb to the finish, with police arresting a person at the finish.
The Tour de France and French police have tried to protect Froome and Team Sky with extra security, but Copeland revealed that Bahrain-Merida have told their athletes to avoid riding near Froome to avoid any risks.
“In the past we said, ‘Guys, stay up front to avoid the crashes.’ Now we say, 'Don’t stay behind Froome, it’s dangerous,'" Copeland explained.
“That’s a grotesque situation: ‘Don’t stay behind a rider because he’s being targeted’, but the truth is that he’s facing the risk of something happening every day. Chris told me that himself when we spoke recently. The other day on Alpe d’Huez, Vincenzo was behind Froome after he’d attacked. Chris managed to avoid the motorbikes and everything. Vincenzo went down.”