By Samuel Petrequin
BESANCON, France — A woman crossing the road during the Tour de France was killed Saturday when she was hit by a police motorcycle escorting riders. Two other fans were injured after the motorcycle skidded into them.
The accident happened in the early afternoon in Wittelsheim in eastern France during the 14th stage, a 124-mile route from Colmar to Besancon. A few breakaway riders had just ridden through the town center, Tour organizers said.
Organizers identified the victim as a 61-year-old woman. Race medical teams treated her immediately before emergency staffers arrived.
The accident happened 24 miles into the stage. After hitting the woman, the motorcycle skidded into two other fans. A 36-year-old complained of neck pain, and a 61-year-old broke a leg. They were taken to a hospital and are not in serious condition, Renard said. They were identified only by age.
Seven-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong expressed condolences to the woman's family on his Twitter feed.
"There's many close calls between riders and spectators ... Sad news. May she RIP," he wrote.
Lt. Col. Thierry Renard said the officer on the motorcycle was a member of France's elite Republican Guard and he was unable to avoid the woman.
The officer headed the Guard's "yellow flags" unit at the Tour, made up of experienced drivers, Tour director Christian Prudhomme said. Their job is to spot obstacles on the road and clear the path for the rider pack. The officers often drive at high speeds.
Renard said he had no reason to question the driving of the motorcyclist, who had already worked on the Tour several times.
Tour organizers will use a previously scheduled commemoration before Sunday's 15th stage in Pontarlier to honor the woman. The minute of silence was already planned to remember a young cycling fan from the region who died in a car crash last month.
Deadly accidents are rare on the Tour de France. One boy was killed in 2000 and another in 2002 after being hit by sponsors' vehicles.
Tour organizers responded by reducing the number of sponsor vehicles on the course. For every race stage, an alternate itinerary is provided to relieve vehicle congestion.
"Security is the priority of Tour de France organizers," Prudhomme said. "There is absolutely no doubt about that."
Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux ordered a police inquiry and reminded spectators to take all precautions. A total of 23,000 police officers are deployed on the Tour.
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The motorcycle accident came a day after two riders were slightly injured by shots from what French authorities suspect was an air rifle.