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What will happen to the “Opi/Omi” TdF spectator?

French woman’s fate to be decided Thursday

UPDATE: The prosecution has requested a 4-month suspended sentence, and the verdict will be rendered December 9. Furthermore, the professional men’s cycling union, the CPA (Cyclistes Professionnels Associés) is suing her for an apparently symbolic €1.

The French fan who caused half the bunch to hit the deck in the Tour de France in July will learn her punishment in Brittany Thursday. She is charged with “voluntary injuries” and “endangering others.” The 31-year-old woman held a sign saying “allez opi omi” which, ordinarily would be a nice French/German bilingual shout-out to her grandparents, had she not crashed half the field.

Following the crash, it seemed as if every cyclist in the field, those watching it on TV, and pretty much the entire country of France seemed poised to bring back the guillotine for her egregious behaviour. It’s fair to say it was a pretty stupid thing to do: it’s one thing holding a sign out, it’s another to step onto the road just as a few hundred cyclists travelling at more than 40 km/h are passing you. Tony Martin hit the sign first, which caused almost dozens of riders behind him to crash.

It’s baffling that this doesn’t happen more often, given the proximity of so many overzealous fans who watch by the side of the road every year. In 1994, Belgian Willfried Nelissen hit a police officer who was trying to get a very close closeup. In 1999, Italian rider Giuseppe Guerini crashed into a photographer on the final corner as he approached the finish of Alpe d’Huez. Lance Armstrong got tangled up in a fan’s musette bag in 2003 ascending Luz Ardiden.

Each time, of course, the crashes were caused by mistake. The Tour has hundreds of thousands of fans who are excited to see their heroes whiz by them. While fans should exercise care as they have the privileges to get so close to the pros. The omi/opi fan was careless. The Tour de France organizers initially declared they’d be suing the woman, but after the initial firestorm of outrage, withdrew their complaint.

The woman faces a hefty fine and possible jail time, but it’s doubtful the latter will occur. If anything, perhaps this event could be a warning to all fans in all races to never, ever, ever again do something so reckless. It’s not just about screwing up the race itself, but possibly jeopardizing a cyclist’s career after a bad crash. Cycling is dangerous enough without one more risk.