2011 Tour de France

This year’s Tour de France is at its halfway point at the time of writing and 2011 is shaping up to be a vintage year.  Christian Prudhomme’s route has kept the racing fierce and the fans on the edge of their seats.  The race is almost as intense from a sports lawyer’s perspective. 

A cloud hangs over Alberto Contador’s head following his positive test for clenbuterol at last year’s Tour.  The hearing of the UCI’s appeal to the CAS was due to be heard in early June, but has now been adjourned to early August and Contador is free to race in the meantime.  If the UCI appeal is upheld then Contador faces a 2 year ban and the loss of his results since his positive test, including last year’s TdF title, his 2011 Giro d’Italia win and his result in the 2011 TdF (which, if his knee holds out, could well be another win).

The TdF has thrown up its first doping positive with the announcement yesterday of Alexandr Kolobnev’s positive test for the diuretic and masking agent hydrochlorothiazide.  Doping is a criminal offence in France, so beyond facing disciplinary proceedings by his national federation, the boys en bleu have started a criminal investigation.  Kolobnev’s name has already cropped up earlier this year in the Padova investigation in Italy.   

Crashes are simply an inevitable feature of cycle racing and it is exceptionally difficult for an injured rider to establish a legal liability for injuries sustained in competition.  Perhaps the best know rider against rider claim was Claude Criquielion’s (ultimately unsuccessful) legal action against Steve Bauer for damages of $1.5M following the tangle in the sprint for the 1988 World Championship Road Race that took them both out of contention and gifted the win to the then little-known Maurzio Fondriest. 

Most of the incidents at this year’s TdF are no exception and from a legal perspective would be seen as part of the rough and tumble of professional road racing.  Hypothetically, two incidents do however stand out as potentially actionable (although legal action is rare in the absence of career-ending injury).  The first is the incident on the stage to Cap when a race photographer’s motorbike knocked Nicki Sorensen from his bike.  The motorbike is said to have dragged Sorensen’s bicycle for a kilometre before the motorbike rider realised what had happened. 

The second – and more serious – incident involved a French TV car that knocked Juan Antonio Flecha and Johnny Hoogerland off their bikes in a truly horrifying incident in the run in to the finish on the stage to Sant-Flour (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWT8yeHGA0U).  Hoogerland was left with deep lacerations, requiring 30 stitches.  If you are squeamish, do not open this link! (http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/sport-front-page/2011/07/12/tour-de-france-2011-johnny-hoogerland-back-on-his-bike-in-tour-de-carnage-115875-23266605/).  Demonstrating considerable fortitude, Hoogerland finished the stage and continues to hold the climber’s jersey.  Chapeau!

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