Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme pleaded with fans to show more respect to riders after both Chris Froome (Team Sky) and George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) were involved in incidents with fans in recent days. Froome was fined after punching a fan who had been running too close to him during stage 8. A day later, Bennett had a lucky escape after colliding with a fan who had stepped out into the road.
Prudhomme told Cyclingnews that the best thing race organiser ASO can do is to educate fans about spectating at bike races. “The only thing that we can do is to ask fans to please respect the riders. It’s also dangerous for them, too. First, it is a question of education,” Prudhomme said in Andorra on Monday.
“Everybody and you first the media, please need to say once again: ‘Please respect the riders, please stay on the side of the road.’ We have many adverts on the radio, TV and in the newspapers, everyone needs to ask the fans not to run with the riders.”
One of cycling’s great attractions is the closeness between fans and riders, but this proximity also carries inherent challenges. Prudhomme says that the Tour de France has been working on laying out more barriers along the route, but it would be impossible to do it for the entire course and doing so would take away from the sport.
“There will be no day when there will be 3,500 kilometres of barriers,” he said. “It is the only sport where you can have this link between the fans and the riders so we have to keep that. Every year, we have more barriers, in eight or 10 climbs we have 600 or 700 metres of barriers. It didn’t exist three years ago. We will never have total barriers,” Prudhomme said.
“First, it’s a question of education. When we talk to the people, they obey more or less. There are people who we don’t talk to because they don’t listen to the radio, they don’t read the newspapers so we need more people in the media to say: ‘Please don’t run.’”
'Like a classic every day’
Talking to Cyclingnews on the rest day in Andorra, Prudhomme was able to reflect on the first week of racing. Despite some of the incidents with fans, this year’s Tour de France has had noticeably fewer crashes than previous editions. The first abandon only came on Saturday, when Michael Morkov (Katusha) climbed off after battling on following a crash in the finale of stage 1.
Prudhomme explained that the early part of the route had been designed with a reduction in crashes in mind. “One of the reasons we had a mountain stage on the very first Wednesday was because there were too many crashes last year,” he explained.
“I was happy to have the first abandon exactly seven days after the Grand Depart. It has never happened before. I know that it will be very difficult to have this again in the future, but we need it because it is good for cycling but also because of all these falls last year, so I think it was a good decision.”
A much slower pace during some of the early stages has also likely contributed to much fewer crashes in general. Looking back on the action of the first week, Prudhomme delighted in Froome defying expectations with his stage win into Bagnères-de-Luchon on Saturday.
“During these last nine days the winners that we’ve had it is like it was a classic every day,” said Prudhomme. “For me, the sprints this year have been the best in years… I’m very happy to have so many riders separated by one minute in the general classification. We don’t know what will happen over the next few weeks and that is perfect.
“I loved the way that he won in Bagnères-de-Luchon, I told him hats off. I saw it when he attacked. It was just a very smart win. Not only clever, but also very impressive. Everybody thought, and me too, that it would be one day after on a climb, but it was one day before and on a descent. It was just a huge surprise and I like these kind of surprises very much… It is good. When it doesn’t happen exactly as scheduled, I like that: not as the director of the Tour but as a fan of cycling.”
The Tour de France resumes on Tuesday with a stage from Escaldes-Engordany to Revel.