Two riders shot by BB gun during race

Updated: July 18, 2009, 2:28 AM ET
By Bonnie D. Ford | ESPN.com

COLMAR, France -- At least two Tour de France riders were hit by pellets from a BB gun or similar weapon as they labored behind the main peloton near the finish of Friday's Stage 13. Neither was seriously hurt, but the incident again illustrated the perils of conducting one of the world's largest sporting events on the open road.

Julian Dean of New Zealand, a sprinter who rides for the Colorado-based Garmin-Slipstream team, and Oscar Freire, a Spanish sprinter for the Dutch Rabobank team, were hit on the descent of a mountain in the Vosges late in the challenging 124.2-mile stage, which unfolded in cold, heavy rain and fog. Rabobank team doctors later removed what they believed to be a lead pellet from Freire's thigh. A pellet glanced off Dean's right index finger, causing some bruising and bleeding.

Tour spokesman Christophe Marchadier said the race organization had asked police to investigate the incident. Both teams said they would cooperate.

Garmin director Matt White, who rode professionally for 10 years, said he and his riders know there's probably no way to reconstruct what happened or to prevent it from happening again. "Good luck finding someone in that crowd," he said. "It's bloody ridiculous for that to happen, but it's 21 days and millions of people. Everyone knows how much of a circus the Tour de France is. You can't control it."

Dean, 34, has recovered from numerous major injuries in a career devoted to the high-velocity art of the bunch sprint. He's assigned to lead out Garmin's young speedster Tyler Farrar at this Tour and has helped him to two second-place stage finishes. Freire, 33, won the green jersey accorded the Tour's top sprinter last year.

White said he was sure the riders weren't personally targeted and is confident both men will return to the start line without psychological distress. "Both Julian and Oscar take their lives in their hands every time they go up for a sprint," he said.

It's not unusual for spectators to interfere with riders in some way, but there have been remarkably few violent incidents in the Tour's 103-year history. Perhaps the most infamous occurred in 1975 when a fan punched five-time Tour winner Eddy Merckx of Belgium in the stomach.

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. Follow her Twitter feed here or reach her at bonniedford@aol.com.

Bonnie D. Ford covers Olympic sports for ESPN.com.

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