A spectator wielding a sign caused a dramatic pile-up on the first day of the Tour de France, causing dozens of riders to crash, while another huge pileup brought down Chris Froome and others.
The Tour got underway on Saturday from the western port city of Brest, returning to its traditional slot in the calendar after last year’s edition was pushed back to September because of the pandemic.
The grey weather did not deter fans as hundreds of spectators, many holding the Brittany flag, lined the streets to greet the peloton as riders started their three-week trek across France.
However, one fan got too close to the action: facing the opposite way to the oncoming riders, they held a sign that read “Allez Opi-Omi” (’come on grandad-granny’, in a mix of French and German) up for the cameras - but inadvertently left the edge of the cardboard dangling dangerously in the road.
The sign took out Tony Martin, with Primoz Roglic and Wout Van Aert also among the scores of riders involved in the crash, which occurred with 45km of the first stage to go.
Overall contenders Tao Geoghegan Hart of Britain, as well as Colombian Miguel Angel Lopez, were among the riders being held up, potentially losing time on the opening day of the three-week race.
Belgian Wout van Aert, one of the favourites for the stage win, was also slowed down but made it back to the main bunch after a long effort.
German Jasha Sutterlin of Team DSM was consequently the first rider to abandon the race after being sent to the ground by the crash.
Soon after the crash, the Tour’s official Twitter account tweeted: “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!”
The second crash brought down Froome and many others including Marc Haller, Andre Greipel and Ion Izagirre.
As for Martin, he was back on his bike but had wounds on his arms from the incident.
Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe won the first stage to take the inaugural leader’s yellow jersey.
The world champion burst away from the main pack with 2.3-km left of a brutal climb up to the Cote de la Fosse aux Loups, and none of his rivals could match his power.
Australian Michael Matthews took second place, with Slovenian Primoz Roglic coming home third.
Additional reporting by AP and Reuters.