LANDERNEAU, FRANCE (REUTERS, AFP) - A roadside spectator holding a cardboard banner caused a massive pile-up during the first stage of the Tour de France, which left several top riders being held up on Saturday (June 26), while another huge pile-up with about 7km left brought down Chris Froome and others.
Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe won the stage, a 197.8-km ride from Brest to Landerneau, to take the inaugural leader's yellow jersey.
The world champion burst away from the main pack with 2.3km left of a brutal climb up to the Cote de la Fosse aux Loups, and none of his rivals could match his power.
Australian Michael Matthews took second place, with Slovenian Primoz Roglic coming home third.
In the first incident, German Tony Martin was sent crashing when he rode straight into the sign that said "Allez Opi-Omi" (Come on grandad-granny, in a mix of French and German) amid scenes of chaos with 47km left.
The Jumbo rider, who was riding near the head of the pack and close to excited roadside spectators, fell and brought down a huge number of riders behind him.
The first crash held up the race for five minutes while bikes and bodies were untangled.
The race leader slowed down to allow the stragglers to catch up and despite the spectacular tangle, only one rider, Germany's Jasha Sutterlin of DSM, has so far had to pull out due to the accident.
Italian champion Sonny Colbrelli and Dutch rider Wout van Aert, who ran over Martin before falling head over heels, had both been among the favourites to win the first-stage hilltop finish but were both badly delayed.
The Dutchman eventually made it back to the main bunch after a long effort.
Welsh Ineos rider Geraint Thomas and defending champion Tadej Pogacar appeared unhurt.
Last year's runner-up Roglic looked to have fallen heavily but recovered sufficiently to finish among the top three.
Tour de France organisers Amaury Sport Organisation told Reuters they were suing the spectator who caused the incident.
Overall contenders Tao Geoghegan Hart of Britain, as well as Colombian Miguel Angel Lopez, were also among the riders being held up, potentially losing considerable time on the opening day of the three-week race.
The second crash occurred when the peloton was going around 70kmh some 5km from the finish line.
It left around 20 riders stricken on the ground and needing attention including four-time champion Froome, Marc Haller, Andre Greipel and Ion Izagirre.
Froome looked in pain as he climbed on his bike again. The Briton, who has little hope of winning the race after failing to rediscover top form following a horror crash two years ago, ended the stage almost 15 minutes off the pace.
Hordes of unmasked fans decked out in red-and-white polka-dot caps and shirts lined the narrow Brittany country lanes for the 197km stage as France eases its Covid-19 restrictions.