An arrested cycling spectator who caused a mass pileup at the Tour de France has told investigators she feels ashamed of her “stupidity” and is worried about the huge public interest in her case, a prosecutor said on Thursday. The 30-year-old woman, who has not been named, was arrested on Wednesday, five days after the accident on Saturday that left dozens of cyclists nursing cuts and bruises and one with fractured hands.
Wearing a bright yellow coat, she was caught on camera during the first stage of the race in northwestern Britanny holding up a large cardboard sign with the words “Go! Grandpa and granny” in front of the cyclists. Riding on the outside of the tightly packed peloton, German cyclist Tony Martin was unable to avoid colliding with the sign and the ensuing pileup led to a five-minute delay as riders and bikes were untangled.
“The suspect has expressed her feelings of shame and fear about the consequences of her act,” local prosecutor Camille Miansoni told reporters at a press conference that was shown live by some French TV channels.
“She said she is worried about the media attention for what she has called her ‘stupidity’,” Miansoni added from the city of Brest.
The accident has sparked a debate about safety and spectator conduct at the Tour de France, where fans are allowed to line the roads, but has also inflamed passions and led to widespread abuse of the woman on social media.
Local police chief Nicolas Duvinage said that an appeal for witnesses posted on Facebook led to more than 4,000 messages, some of which “were verging on incitement to violence”.
“We need to stay reasonable and calm on social networks,” he told the press conference. “The suspect has some personal vulnerabilities and we need to avoid a lynching in the media or on social media.”
Prosecutor Miansoni explained that the woman had gone to watch the race with her partner as it passed several miles from their home in rural Britanny. The message on her sign — which she showed in the direction of television cameras, meaning her back was turned to the riders — was intended for her grandparents who were watching on TV at home like millions of other French people.
Miansoni added that she had no previous criminal record and a decision would be made shortly on whether to charge her with putting others in danger through negligence and causing unintentional bodily harm.
Earlier on Thurday, the organizer of the Tour de France race said it was withdrawing its legal complaint against her.
“The incident has been blown out of all proportion,” director Christian Prudhomme told AFP.
“So we’d like to calm things down now that the message has got across that the roadside fans need to be careful.” Martin, a six-time Tour de France stage winner, had earlier called for a severe punishment.
“Not only did she fail to stick around and help us get up from the floor, she didn’t present herself to the police or present her excuses,” the 36-year-old told German newspaper Bild.
Martin, who competes for Team Jumbo-Visma, is still in the Tour but Spain’s Marc Soler is one of the riders who had to leave after the crash in which he fractured both hands.
Soler told Spain’s La Vanguardia newspaper on Wednesday he intended to lodge an official complaint about the woman.
“People come to the race to mess around and at the end of the day they go home all right, but we cyclists pay for it with our bodies,” he said.