A fugitive cycling fan who caused a mass crash of Tour de France riders with a hand-written sign has been arrested by police five days after the pileup, a source close to the investigation said on Wednesday. The unidentified woman, caught on TV cameras holding her cardboard sign in a yellow rain coat, sparked a debate about safety and spectator conduct after the accident on Saturday that left dozens of riders nursing bruises.
“The woman has been formally identified and she was taken into custody a few minutes ago,” a source told AFP after the state prosecutor for the city of Brest, Camille Miansoni, confirmed that “a suspect is in custody”.
The accident on the first stage of the race occurred between Brest and Landerneau in northwestern Britanny when the woman, facing away from the riders and towards the cameras, held up the sign which read “Allez Opi-Omi”, which translates as “Go, grandpa and granny”.
Positioned on the edge of a group of tightly packed riders, German cyclist Tony Martin hit the sign and fell, bringing down dozens of others who were following behind him. The pileup delayed the stage for five minutes while bikes and bodies were untangled.
Amid the chaos, the woman was seen reeling away in horror before disappearing into the deep roadside crowd, her sign folded away beneath her arm.
Her use of “Opi-Omi” — two diminutive terms for grandparents in German — led to speculation that she was from Germany, but the source confirmed to AFP that the arrested woman was French. No other details were given.
“We’ll know more tomorrow morning,” prosecutor Miansoni said.
The incident and a series of crashes on the second and third stages of the race angered teams and led to the entire peloton staging a symbolic protest at the start of Tuesday’s fourth stage.
Riders all came to a stop for a brief period, before setting off again at a leisurely pace.
After Saturday’s crash, the deputy director of the Tour, Pierre-Yves Thouault, told AFP that the organisers intended to sue the culprit.
“We are doing this so that the tiny minority of people who do this do not spoil the show for everyone,” he said.
The woman is expected to be charged with causing “unintentional short-term injury through a manifestly deliberate breach of a duty of safety or care.”
Not a circus
Thousands of cheering spectators packed on to the sides of the narrow racing streets are typical scenes during the Tour de France as it makes its way around the country. But despite the best efforts of thousands of security forces, accidents and infringements occur.
The race had to slow down at the weekend in Britanny due to fans spilling on to the road, while youths also set off flares and fireworks at one section as the riders were speeding past them.
Writing on Instagram after the crash, Martin thanked cycling fans for their support, but criticised people “next to the road who think that the Tour de France is a circus”.
He also took aim at those who “think it’s nice to show their naked butt, to drunken people who push us sideways on the climbs, to people who think that it is a good idea to hold a sign into the road while the peloton is passing.”
“Please respect the riders and the Tour de France!” he wrote. “Use your head or stay home!”
RBA/AFP Photos: Bettini