Tour crash culprit admits 'stupidity', may avoid jail term

BREST (FRANCE) • The spectator behind one of the biggest pile-ups in Tour de France history appeared in court yesterday charged with injuring dozens of cyclists but seemed set to avoid jail after prosecutors demanded a suspended sentence.

The 31-year-old Frenchwoman, whose identity was withheld after she was targeted by online abuse, has already told prosecutors of being ashamed at her "stupidity".

Prosecutor Solenn Briand acknowledged that she had recognised "how dangerous" her conduct had been and had expressed regret.

The prosecution requested that she be given a four-month suspended sentence on the charges of endangering lives and causing unintentional injuries. Under French law, she could have faced a fine of up to €15,000 (S$23,500) and a year in prison for the charges.

The trial was adjourned for a verdict on Dec 9.

Wearing a blue sweater, the woman fled the scrum of journalists waiting at the courthouse. The presiding judge had rejected a request by her lawyer to have the trial held behind closed doors.

The woman, who has no criminal record, had attended the opening Tour stage on June 26 with the goal of getting a sign noticed by TV cameras. It read "Allez, Opi-Omi", the German terms for "grandpa and granny", a nod to her family's German roots.

But she stepped out too far in front of the tightly packed peloton as it sped along a narrow road toward the finish at Landerneau in western France. Her actions sent one cyclist tumbling - with dozens more crashing to the ground.

Video footage of the collision and ghastly scenes of medics tending to grimacing victims sparked outrage among fans and the race organisers, especially when they realised the woman had fled the scene instead of staying to help.

She remained in hiding for four days before turning herself in.

After her arrest on June 30, the public prosecutor of Brest noted that she had some "personal vulnerabilities".

The woman's lawyer, Julien Bradmetz, yesterday said his client had had "a fragile personality for many years".

"This fragility has now increased tenfold so today my client is living through hell," he said.

The tour's organisers, the Amaury Sport Organisation, had originally planned to sue but later said it wanted to "calm things down" and would not be a plaintiff.

But the Professional Cyclists' Association (CPA) has maintained its complaint and is seeking a symbolic €1 in damages to send a message against dangerous fan behaviour.

"The damage suffered by the riders is physical, moral and economic," CPA president Gianni Bugno said on Wednesday.

"An athlete prepares months for a grand tour and it is not acceptable that all his hard work, that of his family, his staff and his team, should be shattered in an instant by the quest for popularity."

Its lawyer Romuald Palao added: "This case is representative of what can happen with people who want to take centre stage themselves with pictures, videos. It has to be done with a minimum of common sense."

The trial came on the same day organisers unveiled the route and stages for next year's race, which will start in Denmark on July 1, push into Switzerland and Belgium, visit Dunkirk and Lourdes, and has five mountain slogs.

The women's Tour de France will be revived next year since its last race in 1989 and the route was also unveiled with eight stages, embarking from the Eiffel Tower on July 24, the day the 109th edition of the men's Tour ends.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2021, with the headline 'Tour crash culprit admits 'stupidity', may avoid jail term'. Subscribe