As British racer Chris Froome shares the anguish of the moment, French police are looking for a female spectator who is on the run and faces up to a year in prison after causing the crash that injured 21 riders in one of the worst-ever collisions in Tour de France history.

Chris Froome, a British cyclist and four-time Tour de France champion was injured in the crash on Saturday, June 26, breaking no bones but bruising his left side and chest.

During the first stage of the 108th Tour de France on Saturday,  an unidentified woman grinned to a TV camera while holding a cardboard sign with a message written in a mix of French and German to her grandparents, prompting prosecutors in Brittany to open a criminal investigation.

With her back to the peloton and the placard extending out into the road at handlebar height, the woman blocked German rider Tony Martin and about 50 other riders. Traveling at speed in close formation, Martin could not avoid the sign and crashed, bringing down most of the peloton. The incident resulted in 21 injuries and forced Team DSM’s Jasha Suetterlin to withdraw from the race, reported the Daily Mail.

Speaking from a hospital bed on Saturday evening, Froome said:  “In a split-second there were 50 or 60 of us all on the ground.

“I guess that’s bike racing.”

During the race, Froome, 36, was hurt in a second pile-up. Scans showed he had avoided any fractures, but Froome claimed he has “a lot of swelling and bruising.”

“I’m pretty sore this morning,” the Israel Start-Up Nation team rider said.

He told the BBC: “One moment everything was fine heading towards the finish in the last 10km, at 60-70km/h, then a touch of wheels in the peloton and it was carnage with 50 or 60 riders on the floor.

“Unfortunately there was nowhere for me to go. I braked as hard as I could but I just went into the back of the guys who crashed in front of me. I spent the whole evening in the hospital, but all’s good.”

He added: “I’m hoping I can still start tomorrow but at the moment I can’t put any pressure on my left leg and it’s not looking great.”

Overall, on the first day of the three-week race, contenders Tao Geoghegan Hart and Miguel Angel Lopez of Colombia were among the riders who were held up and lost significant time.

Wout van Aert of Belgium, one of the favorites for the stage win, was also hampered but made it back to the main group after a long struggle, as did eventual stage winner Julian Alaphilippe, who crossed the line with blood streaming from his knee.

According to regional daily Ouest France, the major disaster occurred near the crest of the Saint-Rivoal hill in the village of Saint-Cadou, around 30 miles from the finish line of the 123-mile race from the Atlantic port city of Brest to Landerneau at the mouth of the Elorn River.

A spokesman for the Finistere Gendarmerie said: “The spectator who caused this accident left the scene before the arrival of the investigators. Everything is being done to try and find her. She was wearing glasses and dressed in blue jeans, a red and white striped sweater, and a waxed yellow jacket.”

Pierre-Yves Thouault, the tour’s deputy director, told AFP that he is suing the woman for “behaving so badly'” so that “the tiny minority of people who do this don’t spoil the show for everyone.”

Following Saturday’s crash, the Tour issued the following statement, “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!”

In a team press release, Martin said: “We had everything under control until the crash. I brought the guys to the front via the right side of the road but crashed into the sign of the spectator. 

“It all happened very quickly; suddenly almost the entire team was on the ground. Many spectators behave respectfully, but unfortunately not this one. Fortunately, Primoz came through it well. I hope the physical damage to myself and the other guys is manageable.” 

According to Thouault, the tour’s organizers had filed a complaint against the woman, who could now face legal action from the tour.

“This is unacceptable behavior,” he said. “There are safety rules to follow. Spectators don’t cross the road; they don’t take selfies. Frankly, her attitude was insane. The show is the riders, not spectators who want to be on TV.

“The Tour must remain a party but because of the attitude of a very small minority, it is ruined. We can no longer accept this.”

Following the lifting of the coronavirus lockdown, race director Christian Prudhomme chastised the French public for showing out in droves and behaving “inadmissibly,” with “people running across the road in front of the race and children left to their own devices.”

“You come here to see heroes,” he told French media. “If you want to see yourself look in the mirror.”

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