The sign caught the arm of Jumbo-Visma’s Tony Martin, causing chaos behind

Credit: Tour de France

French police say they are searching for the female spectator who triggered one of the worst multi-rider crashes in recent cycling history on the opening stage of the 108th Tour de France on Saturday.

The unnamed fan faces possible legal action with French prosecutors confirming they have opened a criminal enquiry for “deliberately violating safety regulations and so causing injuries that might prevent someone working for up to three months”. This is an indictable offence in France punishable by up to a year in prison.

Tour organisers ASO said on Saturday that they would press charges. "We are suing this woman who behaved so badly," race deputy director Pierre-Yves Thouault told AFP. "We are doing this so that the tiny minority of people who do this don’t spoil the show for everyone."

The spectator, who left the scene before the arrival of the police, was holding a cardboard sign with a message saying ‘Allez Opi-Omi’ [‘Go Granny and Grandpa’] and leaning slightly into the road, looking in the opposite direction to the approaching peloton.

The sign caught the arm of Jumbo-Visma’s Tony Martin, bringing the German down and causing chaos behind him.

Stay home with opi & omi ! #TDF2021 #Bretagne pic.twitter.com/IddxtE4XOJ

— Francis Latré (@FrancisLatre) June 26, 2021

The Finistere gendarmerie said it was investigating the "manifestly deliberate violation of an obligation of safety or prudence".

“The spectator who caused this accident left the scene before the arrival of the investigators,” said a spokesman. “Everything is being done to try and find her. She was wearing glasses and dressed in blue jeans, a red and white striped sweater, and a waxed yellow jacket.”

  • Tour de France 2021, stage two – live updates

Thankfully no one was too seriously injured as a result of the crash. Jasha Sütterlin (DSM) was taken to hospital with an injured hand but was cleared of any fractures.

A second multi-rider pile-up later in the stage was far more costly, injuring at least 25 riders and forcing Marc Soler (Movistar), Cyril Lemoine (B&B Hotels-KTM) and Ignatas Konovalovas (Groupama-FDJ) to abandon the race.

Froome lies on the road after crashing during the first stage but he was fit to resume on Sunday

Credit:
AP

Analysis – unseemly social media pile-on which followed was unnecessary

Fans lining the roadside to cheer the peloton as it passes by is one of the greatest things about professional cycling. It is free, it is colourful and it can create an incredible ambience.

The riders themselves love it; seeing their names scrawled on the road, the noise, the music, the smell of chip fat, running the gauntlet of fans at Dutch Corner.

Who can forget the scenes in 2014 when millions of spectators came out to cheer on the Tour’s riders as they passed through Yorkshire’s towns and villages and over its Dales?

Inevitably, when large numbers of fans congregate on public roads, without barriers, and particularly when drink is involved (although there is no evidence to suggest that was the case here), accidents can happen. Fans wearing Borat mankinis running alongside riders on mountain passes are only ever an untied shoelace away from taking out the Tour favourite. 

Fans line the road as the peloton passes Grinton Moor, Yorkshire during the 2014 Tour de France

Credit:
PA

Chris Froome punched a Colombian fan at the Tour in 2016 after he got too close to his wheel. Selfie sticks have become a menace in recent years and have been known to cause crashes. Mark Cavendish actually stopped to remonstrate with one fan wielding a selfie stick at the Tour of Britain a few years ago. Vincenzo Nibali filed a formal complaint after he was taken out at the foot of Alpe d’Huez in 2018 due to a spectator’s camera strap getting entangled in his handlebars. But on balance, the riders would all far rather have the fans there than not. 

The woman who caused the crash in Brittany on Saturday was not the first and will not be the last to bring a rider down. 

It was a particularly spectacular pile-up, but the unseemly social media pile-on which followed was unnecessary. Doubtless she will be feeling horrendous about it already and was only doing what hundreds of others have done and got away with by the skin of their teeth.

The point of ASO’s and the French police’s strong response is twofold. Firstly, to make an example of her in an effort to dissuade others from doing anything similar. And secondly, to demonstrate to the teams and riders that they are taking this seriously. ASO know they could themselves face legal challenges – such as the one launched by Nibali in 2018 – if a race favourite is brought down and they are shown to be negligent.

The truth is, though, they will never manage to completely eradicate such incidents. Not unless they close the roads completely, which they will not/cannot do. Roadside fans are an essential part of the magic of the sport and they are here to stay, idiots and all.