ORCHIES, France (VN) — Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) still have no answers one year after a car knocked them off the road in the Tour de France. Besides apologies, they remain empty-handed and scarred.
A France 2 TV car last year ran them both off the course after it swerved to avoid a tree during stage 9. The car attempted to pass the two riders, who were a part of a five-man escape, so that it could make its way to the finish in Saint Flour. Luis León Sánchez (Rabobank) won from the escape and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) took the yellow jersey, but Hoogerland and Flecha only had cuts and blood to show for the day.
Hoogerland got the worst of it and told VeloNews, “I will be marked for the rest of my life.”
The dark blue Citroën sent Hoogerland flying into a barbed wire fence. Flecha hit the road at full speed. Both were lucky to be alive and Hoogerland finished the stage heavily bandaged and dripping with blood. Both men continued all the way to Paris a week-and-a-half later. Since then, lawyers have been talking, but little else.
A criminal court ruled against the driver, Adrien Hillairet, and awarded Flecha €10,000. However, the Spaniard feels it is too little considering he lost the chance to win the stage and the ability to do much else in the Tour, and he plans action against France 2’s parent company, Euro Media.
Euro Media offered Flecha €28,000 to settle out of court early on, but Flecha reportedly wants four times the amount. He has promised to pursue the money via his lawyer, even if it takes 10 years. Hoogerland, however, has not received any offer to settle. After the Tour, he sought treatment from physicians, surgeons, psychologists and osteopaths, and when interviewed, the barbed wire scars are still visible on Hoogerland’s legs.
“There are medical expenses, there are legal costs. But that’s not all,” Aart Vierhouten, his manager, told Dutch newspaper, NRC Handelsblad. “What if Johnny would have won the stage? What if he’d won the polka dot jersey? A stage or the polka dot jersey would have given him a big contractual bonus and meant more [money] in the post-Tour criteriums. His market value would have increased. He could have negotiated a higher salary in the years to follow.”
Hillairet and Euro Media director Luc Geoffroy both apologized in the days following the crash. Hoogerland, via his lawyer, Marjan Olfers, asked to settle for €400,000. Attorneys exchanged emails, but Hoogerland never received a counter-offer. Geoffroy did travel to Holland to discuss the matter, but later said, “We can’t pay. Otherwise, we would’ve worked the entire Tour for nothing.”
Vierhouten met with the Tour organizer, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) this spring. In March, he traveled to Paris to meet with ASO’s president, Jean-Etienne Amaury, but came away frustrated with the lack of resolve.
“It’s not respectful for riders,” Hoogerland told VeloNews, “because we are the artists in the big Tour de France movie.”
After the incident, the Tour changed the rules about how cars are able pass riders and this year, it further limited the number of cars with that privilege.
Olfers issued a deadline of June 26 for Euro Media to act. The date passed and a lawsuit will likely follow.