"Get out of the way! Step back, you idiots!" That would be me shouting at the TV during this year's Tour de France.
Crazed fans crowding the route and running alongside riders have long been part of the Tour, but the pros are showing less patience for a few spectators' flag-waving, hard-charging, and downright dangerous ways.
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During Stage 8 on Saturday, reigning Tour de France champion Chris Froome punched a fan who got too close. The next day, a spectator who jumped into the peleton at a blind corner was bowled over by Kiwi rider George Bennett. Ooof. That's gonna leave a mark. I wondered: Are fans behaving worse than usual?
Froome tweeted later that the cameras didn't show the fan's flag going across his handlebars and almost into his front wheel. In the past, Tour fans have intentionally targeted him. Last year as Froome and Team Skye battled doping allegations, a spectator hurled a cup of urine in his face during Stage 14. Then in Stage 19, a different onlooker spit on him as he climbed toward La Toussuire. Earlier in the race, his teammate Richie Porte says he was punched in the ribs by an angry fan.
For his recent swing, Froome was fined around $200 by race officials -- basically a slap on the wrist. He might have taken a page from Spanish champ Alberto Contador who shoved away a heckler who got too close on the Tour in 2011. Whatever my doubts about how clean this sport is, there was something satisfying about watching self-defense maneuvers.
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For most of the race, which winds for nearly 2,200 miles around the country, there is no barrier between spectators and riders. This democratic approach is both great and terrifying. Along really steep passages, the crowds close in tight. Most people are there to cheer on the riders regardless of blazing sun or stinging hail.
I wish I could say that clashes are a new phenomenon, but they stretch way back. In 2013, Mark Cavendish got sprayed with urine by a fan who was apparently irate over an earlier collision with Tom Veelers. The year before that, a fan running with a flare burned the overall leader Bradley Wiggins in the arm. And all the way back in 1975, a fan punched rider Eddy Merckx, which probably cost him the race.
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Those aren't accidents like the hapless fan who unplugged a generator on Friday, deflating a large banner that sent leading rider Adam Yates crashing into the pavement. True fans should take a page from Didi the Devil and be supportive from a safe distance. Parents, watch those kids. And idiots who go too far, well, just know that these riders can and will take you down.
As a reminder, the Tour recently put out this nail-biting safety video: