French police are hunting a female spectator who is on the run and faces a year in prison after causing the injuries of 21 riders in one of the worst crashes in the history of the world-famous Tour de France.
Prosecutors in Brittany launched a criminal inquiry on Sunday after the unidentified female, said to be from Germany, smiled obliviously to a TV camera while waving a cardboard sign with a message to her grandparents during the first leg of the 108th Tour de France.
The woman had her back turned to the speeding riders as German cyclist Tony Martin crashed into her and fell – causing a domino effect of crashes that resulted in 21 injuries. One rider – Jasha Sutterlin – was even forced to pull out of the race entirely.
A spokesman for the Finistere gendarmerie said: ‘The spectator who caused this accident left the scene before the arrival of the investigators. 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 deputy director Pierre-Yves Thouault told AFP: ‘We are suing this woman who behaved so badly. We are doing this so that the tiny minority of people who do this don’t spoil the show for everyone.’
In the wake of Saturday’s crash, an official Tour statement read: ‘We’re glad to have the public on the side of the road on the #TDF2021. But for the Tour to be a success, respect the safety of the riders! Don’t risk everything for a photo or to get on television!’
In a team press release, Mr Martin said: ‘We had everything under control until the crash. I brought the guys to the front via the right side of the road, but crashed into the sign of the spectator.
‘It all happened very quickly; suddenly almost the entire team was on the ground. Many spectators behave respectfully, but unfortunately not this one. Fortunately, Primoz came through it well. I hope the physical damage to myself and the other guys is manageable.’
A roadside spectator caused a massive crash in the Tour de France on Saturday with a banner
Tony Martin had nowhere to go when the supporter stepped out, looking at the TV cameras
The massive accident caused a massive blockage and saw more than 20 riders hit the deck
THE SCENE OF THE CRIME…
The incident came with 45km to go as the peloton was in pursuit of lone breakaway rider Ide Schelling (Bora-Hansgrohe).
Jumbo-Visma was leading the peloton with Tony Martin second wheel on the right-hand side of the road.
Martin crashed, setting off a chain reaction that brought down almost the entire peloton.
The crash, one of two on the stage, saw nine riders received treatment from the race doctor. Many others were injured but not officially recorded.
British cyclist and four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome, 36, was also injured in a second pile up during the race. Scans showed he avoided any fractures, but Mr Froome said he is suffering from ‘a lot of swelling and bruising’.
‘I’m pretty sore this morning,’ the Israel Start-Up Nation team rider said.
He told the BBC: ‘One moment everything was fine heading towards the finish in the last 10km, at 60-70km/h, then a touch of wheels in the peloton and it was carnage with 50 or 60 riders on the floor.
‘Unfortunately there was nowhere for me to go. I braked as hard as I could but I just went into the back of the guys who crashed in front of me. I spent the whole evening in the hospital, but all’s good.’
Prosecutors confirmed that they had opened a criminal inquiry 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 with up to a year in prison and a fine equivalent to just under £13,000.
Mr Thouault said that organisers had filed a complaint against the woman who could now be facing legal action from the tour.
‘This is unacceptable behaviour,’ he said.’ There are safety rules to follow. Spectators don’t cross the road, they don’t take selfies.
‘Frankly, her attitude was insane. The show is the riders, not spectators who want to be on TV.
‘The Tour must remain a party but because of the attitude of a very small minority, it is ruined. We can no longer accept this.’
Tony Martin was the man brought down initially, left with some road rash on his left side
One of the cyclists, Swiss star Marc Hirschi, found himself thrown into the nearby hedges
Julian Alaphilippe, who came down in the crash, remounted and went on to take victory