The 108th Tour de France cycling race got off to a chaotic start on Saturday when a spectator’s sign hit a racer, triggering an enormous pileup.
Replay video shows the fan smiling and facing the same direction as the racers, with a large cardboard sign sticking out into the narrow country road. Tony Martin, a 36-year-old German cyclist, was reportedly the first to go down, followed by a neighboring racer who fell on top of him.
The spectator’s sign read “Allez Opi-Omi!” in black marker ― a message for the holder’s grandparents.
It was not immediately clear whether anyone had been seriously injured in the wreckage of bicycles and bodies, but at least one person’s bike appeared to have snapped.
Some of the racers ― including Martin, who appeared to have a bloodied arm ― picked themselves up and continued on, with 29-year-old French cyclist Julian Alaphilippe crossing the finish line first. Others waited behind for new bikes to be delivered from their teams.
But it was not smooth sailing from then on: A second big crash that occurred at a higher rate of speed tripped up many of the cyclists who had either missed or overcome the first one. One rider who was flung off his bike narrowly missed hitting a telephone pole along the road.
The 2,124-mile race began today from Brest, a city at the westernmost tip of France. Racers were less than 30 miles from the day’s finish point when the first crash occurred.
The tour’s official Twitter account tweeted out a reminder to fans alongside a montage of spectators getting up close and personal with riders in past races.
“We’re glad to have the public on the side of the road ... 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!”