CARCASSONNE, France (CNN) – The Tour de France, cycling’s most prestigious race, was temporarily halted on Tuesday after tear gas, used by police to disperse protesters, inadvertently got into the eyes of some riders. Protesting farmers had blocked the road with hay bales, leading police to spray them with the gas.
Unhappy farmers had organized the protest because they “wanted to be seen” by Stephane Travert, France’s Minister of Agriculture, according to a police source. The source confirmed that the race was stopped because the organizers wanted the tear gas to disperse in order to avoid any other riders being affected.
“Looks like the tear gas used by the police on the farmers ended up getting to the eyes of some riders,” Quick-Step Cycling posted on Twitter. Medical treatment received by the riders was described as “light,” while there were “no injuries.” Cyclists were just washing off any molecules of tear gas.
Tour leader Geraint Thomas, as well as several other riders, could be seen rinsing his eyes with water as the cyclists waited behind the race organizers’ cars for the stage to restart. Stage 16 of the tour sees the riders make their way 218 kilometers from Carcassonne to Bagnères-de-Luchon.
“After a 15 minute-long interruption caused by protesters, the race is back on,” the tour explained on Twitter. Officials also posted a tweet warning spectators to “respect the riders,” as endangering them can lead to up to three years in prison.
This is not the first time that protests have affected this year’s Tour de France, though they had previously been aimed at Team Sky and its rider Chris Froome. Ahead of the Tour, 33-year-old Froome had been under an anti-doping cloud after he was found to have more than the permissible level of asthma drug salbutamol in his urine at last September’s Vuelta a Espana.
After a nine-month investigation — during which Froome constantly protested his innocence — cycling’s governing body, the UCI, on the advice of experts from the World Anti-Doping Agency, dropped the case just before the Tour began earlier in July. Nonetheless, last week, Froome and other Team Sky riders were targeted by a flare, while the four-time champion was reportedly spat at and pushed by roadside spectators.
Vincenzo Nibali, the 2014 Tour winner, was also knocked off of his bike by fans encroaching on the road, and was forced to withdraw due to his injuries.
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