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Tour de France roundtable: Should ASO sue the fan who caused the stage 1 crash?

Should ASO sue the fan who caused the stage 1 crash? What's the proper punishment for the costly mistake? We offer our opinions.

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French authorities have reportedly taken into custody the fan who allegedly caused the massive crash on stage 1 of the Tour de France. Officials from ASO have stated their intention to sue this person for causing the crash, which opens up a whole pile of questions about ethics, personal responsibility, and the appropriate punishment for disrupting public bike races.

Below, we unleash our takes on the 2021 Tour de France’s worst moment (thus far):

What’s your opinion of ASO’s plan to sue the fan who caused the stage 1 crash?

Andrew Hood @eurohoody: I think it’s ridiculous and will not stand up in court, not even in France. Of course, it was a very unfortunate incident, but the idea to prosecute the fan seems like a distraction to take away from the larger dangers and issues facing the Tour de France.

Sadhbh O’Shea @sadhbhOS: This is a tricky situation. I’m sure that the spectator didn’t intend to cause such harm or carnage with her actions and only wanted to say hello to her grandparents on television. It was a lovely sentiment poorly thought through. I’m sure that she’ll be devastated by what happened. However, I think that some sort of deterrent punishment is right. It was negligent behavior that caused harm to others.

Jim Cotton @jim_C_1985: I understand ASO’s desire to make a statement that such action isn’t welcome at its bike races. But prosecution? I don’t see what it can really achieve.

Fred Dreier @freddreier: I hate this plan, and I think it represents the type of reactionary, short-sighted, and knee-jerk reaction that we’ve come to expect from ASO. Yes, the crash was terrible, and a real black mark on the race. But there appears to be no malicious intent here, only a terrible and unfortunate mistake. And, while mistakes can still constitute crimes in real life, I don’t see that applying here. Holding a bike race on open roads with the public invited to watch is, in itself, a risky enterprise. Yes, the public needs to adhere to a certain level of decorum and social responsibility. But the act itself of staging this event represents a risk that ASO is willingly taking, and they must deal with mistakes and accidents and oopsies that come with it.

So, what’s a proper punishment for this?

Andy: Public humiliation on social media seems to match the perceived “crime.”

Sadhbh: Where I live, in the Isle of Man, we have a yearly motorbike festival where competitors zoom around on closed public roads. Stepping onto the closed roads can land you in prison, due to the severe implications it can have. Now, I don’t think that a prison spell is the right call here. Ultimately, I think some sort of nominal fine is right might prove a deterrent for others.

Jim: I think the vitriol spat at the perpetrator on social media is already enough. It’s an incident that will change her life and never be forgotten. I think that’s enough, and I don’t think much more can be done.

Fred: Well, if I worked for ASO I’d probably advocate for flaying or trial by combat or the Walk of Atonement from ‘Game of Thrones.’ But honestly, this fan should be made to learn the craft of carbon repair, and then fix all of the shattered frames from the crash. That, and maybe a monetary fine or some type of official ban from attending next year’s Tour. That’s about it.

What or who is to blame for fan/cyclist incidents like these?

Andy: It’s pretty hard to blame Tony Martin. He did all he could to avoid direct impact, and the crash not only imperiled his team’s Tour, but also his future. Fans can only police and blame themselves. Riders have been complaining the past several years of everyone crowding onto the roads to capture that selfie. For some reason, people don’t seem to realize that they will end up on the wrong end of the bargain in a collision with a bike moving at 60kph.

Sadhbh: You can’t really blame the riders in this instance, there was nothing that Tony Martin could do to avoid the crash. I think that fans on the side of the road need to be more aware of their surroundings and aware of what other spectators are up to. We shouldn’t be afraid to tell someone to take a step back when the situation calls for it. I also believe that ASO and local broadcasters should do more to inform the casual spectator of the risks involved.

The current videos released by ASO have little impact and, perhaps, showing videos such as this will give people a better idea of what can happen when things go wrong. It’s impossible to stop this sort of thing without banning fans, which wouldn’t serve cycling well, but there are steps that can be taken to minimize the potential for it to happen.

Jim: In the case of the Martin / “Opi-Omi” crash, it was the spectator’s fault. But the flurry of crashes that happened late in stage 3 were the product of inappropriate route design. I think that is where more energy should be focused, and that’s where more meaningful changes can be made, rather than reactionary efforts at prosecution. To ban fans, or barrier them back, would kill the beauty of the sport and what makes bike races so special . In the meantime, race organizers need to do all the things they can that preserve the ethos of the sport while making it safer – namely, more appropriate parcours. Downhill sprints? No. Sprint finishes that finish in tight twisty town centers? No. Also, extending the time cut point from 3km would significantly ease the pressure and fight for position in sprint finishes – as the peloton requested Monday.

Fred: I’d say 99.9 percent of the time the fault is on the fan. It’s never on the rider. Every now and again you can blame the organizer. But honestly, fans do need to adhere to personal responsibility at the Tour, and too often they do not. My hope is that the public humiliation of this incident deters more fans from acting like dingbats at future bike races.