The very unfortunate and unsavoury incident involving Mark Cavendish on Stage 11 of the Tour de France (when a spectator threw a bottle of urine in his face), reminded us all of the dangers and vulnerability of cyclists.
One of the beauties of our sport is the fact that the spectators can get extremely close to the athletes, probably more so than in any sport.
It’s a free-to-view event, spectators - especially in the mountains - are standing on the roads cheering on their heroes, often only inches away from the riders, sometimes even less so.
Inevitably accidents can and do happen, and fortunately they don’t happen too often.
However I thought I’d share ten incidents where the close proximity and sometimes stupidity of individuals can result in accidents.
Some of them are minor; others are more serious, and in some instances causing death and rule changes.
They are in no particular order, and are my memories. I am sure there are many more.
1. The greatest ever - Eddy Merckx being punched in the stomach by a spectator on the Puy de Dome in the 1975 Tour. Watch on Youtube
2. Giuseppe Guerini being knocked off his bike by a spectator taking a photograph on the Alpe D’Huez during the 1999 Tour. Fortunately he picked himself up and still went on to win the stage. Video link Go to 1min 45 secs
3. The famous crash in Armentieres in 1994 when a policeman, again leaning out to take a photograph, was hit by Wilfried Nelissen, bringing down Laurent Jalabert as well.
The crash effectively ended Nelissen’s career. After this incident police were removed from those positions in the finish straight. Watch on Youtube Go to 21 mins 45 secs
4. Lance Armstrong crashing on Luz Ardiden in the 2003 Tour when his handlebar got caught in a spectator’s musette. Watch on Youtube Go to 1min 10 secs
5. Tacks on the road is nothing new, making an appearance as long ago as 1903 when fans tried to sabotage riders. Similar incidents have occurred most recently in the Pyrenees last year. They also made a smaller appearance in Corsica last week.
6. Dogs make a frequent but unwelcome visit to the Tour, but none more dramatic than the 18th stage of the Tour to Angouleme in 2007.
Frenchman Sandy Casar was spectacularly felled by a wayward dog whilst in a breakaway. He remounted to go on and win the stage. Watch on Youtube
7. In the Tour of 1958 Andre Darrigade was in a collision with the then General Secretary of the Parc des Princes, Constant Wouters.
The Tour was finishing on the famous Velodrome when Wouters crossed the track to stop photographers encroaching too close.
The crash cost the life of Wouters. Darrigade cracked his skull and broke ribs, but was able to return and complete a lap of honour. Some may find this photo distressing - Photo
8. In 2006 coming into Strasbourg, Thor Hushovd, whilst sprinting to the line close to the barriers, was struck by a comically large sponsors cut-out-hand that you see fans waving.
The hand caught Hushovd on the upper arm causing a deep gash. Fortunately he still stayed upright and went on to finish 9th. As a result these huge hands were banned within the last 2kms of stages.
9. Strikes and demonstrations are also a frequent visitor to the Tour. Fortunately they are rare nowadays. Police intelligence has reduced the risk of the Tour being brought to a halt. However, historically it was an issue.
10. I must mention one such incident as it was one that I rode in and it involved one of the greatest cyclists of all time.
It was in 1983 in the Paris-Nice; we were in a break just coming off a mountain descent when the road was completely blocked by a demonstration of some kind.
Bernard Hinault was in the group but he wasn’t going to let these people stop him, he ploughed straight into them, fell, got up and hit the first person he saw.
The route was soon cleared and we were on our way again very quickly.
Of course it made headlines all over the world.
Incidents like these will happen, fortunately they are rare. It is the nature of our sport to be close to the fans. Take that away and the sport won’t be the same.
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