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The Tour de France Sign Lady Has Been Arrested

The sign lady wishing Opi and Omi well just before disaster strikes
Screenshot: NBC Sports/YouTube

The woman who inadvertently caused a high-speed crash on Stage 1 of the Tour de France was arrested by French authorities on Wednesday. Prosecutors from the city of Brest announced that they’d detained the women as they investigate whether she caused “involuntary injuries with incapacity not exceeding three months by manifestly deliberate violation of an obligation of safety or prudence.”

The woman in question brought down Jumbo-Visma’s Tony Martin as she leaned out over the road with a sign reading “Allez Opi-Omi!”, a tribute to her grandparents. Martin had nowhere to go, and the crash brought down a substantial portion of the peloton. Jasha Sutterlin was forced to abandon with injuries he picked up in the crash, and several others rode on scraped and bruised. The crash was just one of the many high-profile falls scattered throughout the first three stages of the Tour, with a crash later in Stage 1 claiming several riders and a pair of Stage 3 crashes leaving even more riders injured.

Tour organizers ASO immediately announced plans to make an example out of the woman by filing a lawsuit, with ASO’s deputy director saying, “We are doing this so that the tiny minority of people who do this don’t spoil the show for everyone.” The problem was, they couldn’t find her. The woman reportedly fled the scene immediately, with prosecutors theorizing that she left the country on a flight to Germany, though clearly they found her today. The full suite of legal issues she stands to face include the French state investigation, a suit from ASO, and a potential personal suit from Sutterlin, if he chooses to pursue one.

While she did cause a heinous crash by being irresponsibly oblivious at the worst possible time, this doesn’t seem to me like something actually worth prosecuting. Fans have gotten in the way of the Tour for decades now, often injuring themselves or getting themselves punched by riders in the process. I understand the argument that taking the woman to court could serve as a deterrent, though it feels misguided and more like ass-covering than any substantive effort to protect riders. Why is the ASO going so hard over this instead of heeding riders’ calls for safer finishes and more sensible time regulations to protect the peloton? If they really think hanging one sign lady out to dry is going to keep, say, the Alp d’Huez free of drunk morons waving separatist flags and trying to touch riders, then they don’t understand the dynamics or history of their own sport.

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