PARIS – French police are looking for a spectator who sent dozens of elite cyclists crash into a massive pile-up on the first day of the Tour de France over the weekend.
German cyclist Tony Martin was sent tumbling down at high speed on Saturday when he stepped directly into a cardboard sign stretched by an unidentified woman. Martin fell off his bike, causing a group of cyclists around him to crash too, leaving behind a tangle of bikes and cyclists.
Television footage of the race showed the woman, dressed in a yellow jacket, smiling and leaning out into the road while holding a sign reading “Go Opi-Omi” (“Go grandpa-grandma”, in a mix of French and German). As the pack of runners approached her, television footage showed her facing the television cameras, not the cyclists.
A spokesperson for the French National Gendarmerie, one of the country’s two national police forces, told NBC News on Monday that they were still looking for the woman, calling her actions “reckless.”
Investigators scan the camera footage and ask witnesses to provide information about the incident. Police said the woman left the scene before investigators arrived.
The Tour de France normally sees thousands of fans cheering on the riders on the sidelines as they advance through the grueling stages of the race for three weeks.
With most of the Covid-19 restrictions lifted in France, enthusiastic fans took to the streets of picturesque villages along the route on the opening day of the race, and thousands lined the roads of the Breton countryside.
In a statement on Saturday, the national gendarmerie indicated that an investigation had been opened into unintentional injuries caused by the “manifestly deliberate violation of an obligation of safety or caution”.
Race director Christian Prudhomme told Eurosport in an interview on Sunday that the woman’s behavior was “unacceptable and intolerable”.
“When you come to the tour route, it’s to admire the champions, otherwise you have nothing to do with it,” he said. “You have to be careful and not get carried away by enthusiasm. And above all, those who deserve television are the runners. The spectators do not come to see each other, they have their mirror for that.
NBC News has reached out to ASO, the company that runs the race, for comment. There was no further comment from the Tour de France on Monday.
Tour officials warned on Sunday that fans must respect the safety of riders.
“Don’t risk everything for a photo or to be on television! they or they said in a tweet, accompanied by a video compilation of past incidents involving spectators distracting runners or not supervising their children or pets.
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In a strong post on his Instagram page on Sunday, Tony Martin, the runner who collided with the spectator sign, also urged fans to be more respectful.
“To all the people on the side of the road who think that #tourdefrance is a circus, to people who risk everything for a selfie with a fast peloton at 50 km / h, to people who think it’s nice to show their bare buttocks, to drunk people pushing us aside on climbs, to people who think it’s a good idea to hold a sign on the road as the peloton passes, ”he said.
“I want to forcefully ask these people: please respect the runners and the #tourdefrance! “, he added. “Use your head or stay at home!” We don’t want you here. “
The Tour de France continues until July 18.
Nancy Ing reported from Paris, Yuliya Talmazan from London.