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Tales from the peloton: Caravan gone wrong

The Tour caravan

The Tour caravan (Image credit: AFP Photo)

By Les Woodland

We all have the dream: to ride the route of the Tour just ahead of the riders. Or at any rate, just before the caravan. It's only when we see what that means, being in the middle of a whirlwind of journalists' cars, television trucks and team buses, that realisation dawns: the roads of the Tour are dangerous long before the racers arrive and it's not for nothing that the gendarmes are severe with bikies who use them.

Accidents and even deaths are thankfully rare, but they are far from unknown. One of the worst, of which little is ever heard nowadays, happened on July 11, 1964. The Tour that summer was leaving the Atlantic port of Bordeaux for a finish in Brive. Ahead of it as usual was the advertising caravan, more entertaining in those days than now, and also a tanker carrying fuel for the cars and motorbikes of the Tour's police force.

It was 1:15pm, relaxed lunches had just been finished and glasses of wine downed. There was a party atmosphere because the Tour was expected in another 15 minutes. A Frenchman was in yellow.

Nobody knows why but the tanker driver took a bend too fast as he approached the river bridge at Port-de-Couze, in the Dordogne. Some say he was confused by the roads, that with so many people waiting to see the Tour he had mistaken the river's towpath for the road that he needed.

Whatever the reason, the tanker swerved too fast to the right towards the crowded bridge despite the frantic waving of other policemen waiting to direct the race. Forty spectators were thrown into the river, some of them struck by the truck, others losing their balance, some simply jumping for their lives.

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