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Crash with fan revives concerns about spectator safety

The 78-year-old man hospitalised in a coma after being struck by rider Patrik Sinkewitz was in a stable condition on Monday, a day after the accident in the Tour de France, news agency AFP reported.

Sinkewitz was riding to his hotel after Sunday's stage when he hit the Luxembourg men and also was taken to the hospital for stitches in his lower lip and right knee. He was released from hospital but forced to drop out of the race.

The incident revived concerns about safety in the race, which prides itself on the ability of spectators to get very close to the cyclists to cheer them on, with some even offering a push in support of the competitors.

"I think it needs to be looked at ... what contributed to the situation," said Bob Stapleton, manager of Sinkewitz's T-Mobile team. "This is just the difficulty of managing such a huge sporting event."

Mishaps with fans are nothing new.

Last year, Norwegian sprint specialist Thor Hushovd sliced open his right arm when he brushed against a green advertisement cardboard that a fan held over a safety barrier lining the final straightaway. Similar publicity hands are being given away along the course route this year, but this time they're made out of foam rubber, not cardboard.

In 2003 Lance Armstrong crashed when his handle bar got tangled up in a cloth bag a spectator had in their hand, and in 1999 Giuseppe Guerini was knocked down by a spectator trying to get a real close-up shot of the Italian. Both Armstrong and Guerini went on to win the respective stages.

Despite all that Fabian Wegmann, who was disturbed to hear the news about Sinkewitz, said in his diary yesterday that "An accident with spectators, that is always a possibility in cycling. The people close to the road are also part of our sport. Everybody behind barriers? I wouldn't support that.

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