THE driver of Orica GreenEdge’s team bus has apologised after causing chaos on the opening stage of the 100th Tour de France when he struck the gantry on the finishing line.
The incident, which occurred as the peloton was bearing down on the finish in Bastia, was blamed for a major crash as organisers offered confusing instructions as to whether the finish line would be moved. The team insisted that driver Garikoitz Atxa, a former Spanish cyclist on his first day on the job as the team’s bus driver, was following instructions from organisers when he struck the bridge, but they were nevertheless fined 2,000 Swiss francs (£1,400) last night following the incident.
Atxa, who could be seen with his head in his hands immediately after striking the gantry, said: “I don’t know whether I’m famous or infamous. I’m feeling terrible but it’s all over and there was nobody injured in the finish. This was my first day driving the bus so, it’s not a good start but I hope they have faith in me. I tried to sleep but I had a lot on my mind. The team were kind and sympathetic, and what else can I say but I’m sorry.”
The incident caused organisers to initially say the finish line had been moved by three kilometres, but that appeared to be a potentially dangerous decision with the new finish close to a tight corner. With the bus finally removed the original route was restored, but as teams frantically tried to relay the information to their riders a huge crash cut through the field.
The incident ruined what had been expected to be a bunch sprint finish featuring the likes of Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan and Andre Greipel, who were all either involved or held up in the pack. Marcel Kittel won a reduced sprint finish, but last night the focus was still on the carnage behind him with a total of 15 riders injured in various incidents.
In handing down the fine, organisers said Orica had been punished for “not respecting the timetable put in place for auxiliary team vehicles arriving at the stage finish”.
The finish-line gantry is raised earlier in the day to allow larger vehicles to pass under, but had been lowered by the time the bus arrived. However, the team have continued to insist their driver was only following instructions.
Sport director Matt White said on the team’s website: “The bus was led under the finish gantry, and we took it for granted that there was enough clearance. Our bus driver was told to move forward and became lodged under the finish gantry. He followed all instructions in the process that followed thanks to the hard work by ASO that allowed him to remove the bus before the finish. It was the best possible outcome given the situation.”