VALENCE, France (AFP) — The always good-humored Peter Sagan soaks in the ambiance at the Tour de France as much as any rider in the peloton. But even pro cycling’s life of the party is wary of overzealous fans that have already had a negative impact on the race.
“We’re not racing in the stadium or on a track, so it’s a bit difficult to control everybody, especially on the last climb,” Sagan said Friday after claiming his third stage win of this Tour de France.
That said, Sagan is used to trailing home among the late finishers on the punishing mountain stages of the Tour. That means being spat at or pushed, or crashing because over-enthusiastic fans get too close for comfort, is unlikely to happen to him.
It’s not the same for the men fighting each other for the yellow jersey.
On Thursday, race leader Geraint Thomas was booed while on the podium after claiming his second successive Alpine stage to reinforce his grip on the yellow jersey.
“To be honest, we’ve had a few boos from the start, we just ignore it,” Thomas said. “Like I said before, as long as they don’t affect the race, touch the riders or inhibit the riders. You prefer everyone to cheer you. I’d rather be on the podium being booed than be getting dropped on the climb.”
Earlier in the stage, teammate and four-time Tour champion Chris Froome was reportedly spat at and pushed heavily by a spectator.
Both survived to tell the tale, a fate not enjoyed by Italian rival Vincenzo Nibali.
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The 2014 champion looked on great form when he got tangled with a bag or camera strap as he raced through billows of smoke from flares deployed by rowdy fans.
Nibali came down hard, broke a bone in his back and, despite finishing the stage only 13 seconds behind Thomas, abandoned the Tour on Thursday evening.
Friday’s stage was not without incident either. The race broadcast showed one spectator throwing a smoke bomb onto the road as the race passed by.
Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme has hinted tighter controls on stages featuring climbs that attract thousands of fans — many of whom run beside and hinder the riders — could be introduced.
“[Fans] have only one wish, to be on television and take a selfie,” Prudhomme told AFP. “We have no wish to see that again.
“Rocket flares don’t belong on bike races. They make the riders breathe in noxious air, and they blind them. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Sagan, who is well on his way to winning a sixth green jersey for the points competition, refused to criticize the fans.
“The people are everywhere. They want to be close to us, and to touch us. Many have traveled many miles to see us,” he said. “They’re very happy and emotional.
“It’s sad incidents like that happen on the Tour de France, but in these moments the people are not really themselves, because they are excited.”