Spectator at Tour de France Causes Pileup, Marring Annual Cycling Event

oversized cardboard sign leads to crash, spectator arrest

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

The Tour de France is cycling’s biggest competition—and it’s used to disruption. Every year, professional cyclists from around the world take part in the race, pedaling for 2,000 miles around the nation. On June 28, a spectator’s sign caused dozens to crash.

Bicyclists in the Tour De France
The 2021 Tour de France professional cycling event began in Brest on June 26 and concludes in Paris on July 18. Photo By ChiccoDodiFC / Shutterstock

The Tour de France is the world’s largest and most prestigious professional cycling event—a pedal-powered Indianapolis 500 over flat and mountainous terrain that takes place over three weeks. Like in several previous years, a spectator caused a major disruption to this year’s Tour. This time, a woman standing on the sidelines of the course who was holding up a wide cardboard sign failed to take it down in time before the peloton, or group of competitors, reached her. Her sign caused dozens of riders to crash.

The spectator has since been arrested and released, potentially facing charges. The event has resumed and is expected to conclude July 18. In his video series The Great Tours: France through the Ages, Dr. John Greene, Professor of French at the University of Louisville, said the Tour de France is so popular that neighboring countries have even hosted its starting line.

On Your Mark

“The is unquestionably the most famous and prestigious cycle race in the world,” Dr. Greene said. “With daily étapes or stages spread out over more than three weeks, covering more than 2,000 miles, the Tour, also known as La Grande Boucle or ‘the big loop,’ is also one of the most challenging and most grueling sporting events on the planet.

“Terrain has to be varied, including flat and mountain stages and time trials, so as not to favor a particular type of cyclist.”

According to Dr. Greene, the route itself changes every year and alternates between a clockwise and counterclockwise circuit. Additionally, many cities and villages vie for inclusion on the route every year. This is partly because the Tour brings plenty of media attention, including a 45-minute parade of advertisers ahead of the peloton. Therefore, the race brings considerable tourist revenue to every location on the course.

Get Set, Go!

Belgium, Holland, Spain, Germany, Britain, and Ireland have all hosted the Grand Départ, or start of the race, in past Tours de France. Dr. Greene pointed out that each stage of the Tour is broadcast live on national television in France and that special segments air detailing the historical and cultural backgrounds of the race’s locations.

“For the French then, the Tour de France is not just a showpiece sporting event,” he said. “It’s also a chance to showcase France and its cultural, historical, and culinary treasures.”

However, no matter the stages of the race, it always finishes on les Champs-Elysées, which hosts the world-famous l’Arc de Triomphe.

“By the last day of the Tour, the winner of the race has usually been decided; so convention dictates that the final stage from just outside Paris and onto the Champs-Elysées is essentially ceremonial—a victory lap,” Dr. Greene said. “You might even see the members of the victorious team sharing a celebratory glass of champagne as they whizz through the streets of the capital.

“As you would expect, the winner’s podium is set up on les Champs-Elysées to clearly show l’Arc de Triomphe in the background.”

Originally built as a triumphal arch for military victories, l’Arc de Triomphe has celebrated wins by the French soccer team, the military parade on Bastille Day, and the finish line of the Tour de France.

Ideally, no spectators with oversized signs will await them.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily