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Teams and French media said police used tear gas to disperse the protesters, but it ended up blowing in the face of the riders, which led to the race being stopped at the 187 km-to-go point.
Britain's yellow jersey holder Thomas was among the riders caught up in the chaos as he was affected by the tear gas along with many others.
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As the race was stopped, TV footage showed riders visibly shaken with some competitors using water to wash out their eyes while others sought out their team cars for medical assistance.
The race resumed after the brief hiatus with images emerging of an irate policeman using tear gas against the local protesting farmers, who are apparently unhappy about a cut in state aid.
It is not the first time that protesters have interrupted a prominent race, the most memorable incident happening in the 1984 Paris-Nice, when French great Bernard Hinault punched one of the demonstrators.

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