Authorities in France said they were looking for an unidentified woman who held a banner along the side of the road during the Tour de France on Saturday, causing a collision that threw dozens of cyclists to the ground.
Footage from the scene shows fallen athletes in a heap of tangled legs and spinning wheels after a German rider, Tony Martin, crashed into a roadside sign before collapsing. This triggered a chain reaction of collisions in the middle of the peloton, a French word that means “ball” or “group” and also refers to a group of cyclists in a race.
Authorities in the French department of Finistère, in Brittany, asked for witnesses on Saturday in a Facebook post to help them identify the woman who held the banner that read: “ALLEZ OPI-OMI! ” — the French word for “go,” as well as two German endearments for grandparents. She appeared to be facing away from the racers and toward the television cameras prior to the crash.
According to authorities, the accident occurred during the first of the race’s 21 stages in the municipality of Saint-Cadou. According to police, the woman, who was dressed in glasses and a yellow jacket, fled the scene before investigators arrived.
This past weekend, Pierre-Yves Thouault, the deputy director of cycling for the Amaury Sport Organisation, which runs the Tour de France, told Agence France-Presse that the organisation intended to sue the woman. “We are doing this to ensure that the tiny minority of people who do this do not ruin the show for everyone,” he explained.
The Amaury Sport Organisation confirmed on Monday that it had filed a complaint against the woman with French authorities, but did not immediately respond to a question about the potential lawsuit.
The collision was one of two major crashes on the first day of the race, resulting in injuries that forced four cyclists to withdraw: Jasha Sütterlin of Germany, Marc Soler of Spain, Cyril Lemoine of France, and Ignatas Konovalovas of Lithuania.
It is not uncommon for Tour de France fans to crowd the roads, inadvertently (or even intentionally) tripping up the competitors, and the rise of spectator selfies over the last decade has exacerbated that risk.
However, the racers have always had to contend with unexpected obstacles.
A news crew car clipped a group of riders in 2011, sending one of them, Johnny Hoogerland of the Netherlands, barreling into a barbed-wire fence. In 2018, several cyclists rode into a cloud of police tear gas intended for protesters, causing the race to be halted for about 15 minutes while the riders were treated with eyedrops.
In a remarkable turn of events in 2016, a swarm of spectators caused a television motorbike to stop in the path of the cyclists during Stage 12. During the chaos, a police vehicle crushed a leading competitor’s bicycle, Chris Froome, who then began running toward the finish line while waiting for a replacement bike to catch up with him.
Martin was able to stay in the race despite the Saturday pileup. On Sunday, his team, Jumbo-Visma, said on Twitter that “all of our riders appear to be okay after the massive and despicable crash.”
Martin thanked his fans on Instagram for their support and added a message for “all the people next to the road who think the #tourdefrance is a circus.”
He then addressed his message to “people who think it’s cool to show their naked buttocks, drunken people who push us sideways on the climbs, and people who think it’s a good idea to hold a sign into the road while the peloton is passing.”
“Please be respectful of the riders and the #tourdefrance! ” he penned. “Use your brains or stay at home!” ”