Orica-GreenEdge’s bus driver, Garikoitz Atxa, said he followed all the rules before finding himself blocking the finish line of of the Tour’s opening stage yesterday.
“I was a bit late and when I arrived at the finish I followed the instructions that were given to me,” ‘Gary’ Atxa told France 2 this morning.
“When I arrived at the finish line I saw that it was a bit low, but they [the officials] said, ‘avance, avance!‘
“I saw that the others had passed before me, so I did exactly the same thing; but it was bad luck that it [the finishing arch] was a little low and what happened.”
Atxa had taken VIPs to their hotel prior to arriving at the finish area and had therefore lost precious time on an already stressful stage. Yesterday, all race vehicles had to drive the course as no alternative route was offered.
The other buses were already parked in the lot after the finish line when Orica’s bus got back on to the course around five kilometres from the line.
“The bus had permission to go to the finish line, but he was ordered to stop at the finish line due to the four-metre rule [on the arch],” Jean-Louis Pagès, head of stage finishes, said on TV yesterday.
“He shouldn’t have gone further. He was told to stop and ask for authorisation.”
Once the other team buses had passed the finish line the arch had been lowered into position for the stage finish, meaning there wasn’t enough room for the Orica bus to pass underneath. Atxa hit part of it when he attempted to go through and found himself stuck.
Workers franticly let air out of his tyres to lower the bus before trying to push it backwards off the course. In the meantime, the race jury president, Vicente Tortajada Villarroya, moved the finish to three kilometres out and minutes later, when the bus was finally cleared, back to the original finish line.
It added to the chaos of the race, which suffered two crashes in the closing kilometres.
“Yes, of course,” Atxa said when asked if he knows the race rules. “I did the [Criterium du] Dauphiné before [the Tour] and that is run by exactly the same organisation [as the Tour] and with the same regulations. I did the Giro [d'Italia] last year as well. There is no doubt. I followed all the regulations.
“I respected all the indications that were given to me, as all my colleagues from other teams. I did nothing special. I didn’t [take] personal decisions at all. I followed the regulations of the organisation.”
The UCI jury issued Orica a 2000 Swiss Franc fine for not respecting the race’s time schedule.
Atxa stays in the race until tomorrow, as planned, until the team’s other bus driver takes over for mainland France. At that point, the Tour de France organiser hopes all the day one chaos is long forgotten.