Paris-Roubaix
The pack of riders cycle on a cobble-stoned section during the Paris-Roubaix cycling race from Compiegne to RoubaixREUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

The French state railway company SNCF has called for police action to be taken against cyclists in the Paris-Roubaix spring classic, after they crossed tracks with a safety barrier down, seconds before a high speed train arrived.

The incident happened at a crossing in northern France during Sunday 12 April's race, when seven riders in the peloton were moments from being hit by a high-speed train (TGV) as they raced over a rail crossing.

The peloton approached the level crossing and was cut in half as the barriers descended – some riders were clipped by the barrier as it fell, while others squirmed to the side and raced over the crossing.

One rider made it off the track just eight seconds before the TGV train thundered past.

Against safety rules

The seven riders who crossed were not sanctioned for breaking race rules, but the SNCF issued a statement on Monday calling for "several riders" to be prosecuted for acting "against all safety rules".

Race organisers said the peloton was 10m from the barrier as it started to descend and that the leading riders "could not stop in safe conditions".

A police motorcycle stopped the rest of the pack before organisers slowed the leaders to allow the pack to catch up.

Could have ended in disaster

"It's the most beautiful race in the world and we get bothered by a train," Arnaud Demare, a French champion rider, said. "This needs to be taken care of, it was dangerous. We went through but it was close."

Former British champion and Olympic track medallist Rob Hayles told BBC Radio 5 live sports extra: "That could have ended in disaster. You could see riders nip across but that train wasn't slowing down."

One rider from the Belgian Lotto team was among those clipped by the barrier which came down just before the 60kph train sped past.

A similar incident occurred last year during the 151-mile race but it affected only eight men in the breakaway.

In 2006, three riders were disqualified after crossing a railway line after the barrier was down.