Cycling: Dangerous 'selfie' craze angers riders

By Tom Cary

Fans get close to the riders during the second stage of the Tour de France in England. Photo / AP
Fans get close to the riders during the second stage of the Tour de France in England. Photo / AP

It is the latest must-do 'thing', the social media craze that has swept the globe, with everyone from Barack Obama to David Cameron jumping on the bandwagon. But when mixed with cycling it is the "latest pain in the a---", according to Team Sky's Geraint Thomas.

Ever since American chat show host Ellen Degeneres snapped a picture of herself surrounded by a half a dozen Hollywood A-listers at the Oscars in March, the 'selfie' has become ubiquitous on Twitter; a quickly taken shot of yourself using your own handheld device in which you are lucky to get a random part of your face into the frame with the startled object of your attentions next to you.

When combined with a swarming peloton, however, the overall effect can be extremely dangerous and yesterday the riders had had enough. After warnings following the first stage on Saturday that fans were encroaching too far into the riders' personal space, there were further complaints yesterday some were standing in the road with their backs to the peloton trying to take selfies of themselves with their heroes.

"A dangerous mix of vanity and stupidity," wrote BMC's American rider Tejay van Garderen, who appeared to suggest that he needed treatment in the wake of one incident. "Standing in the middle of the road with your back turned while 200 cyclists come at you, just to take a selfie. #think #TDF2014"

He added: "That being said, I love the crowds and thank you for your support. But please give us room. Gonna ice my knee now."

Thomas, Team Sky's Olympic team pursuit champion, was in total agreement. Ahead of the third and final stage on UK soil today from Cambridge to London, the Welshman admitted that he had been blown away by the support - police estimates are of 2.5 million over the first two days but organisers reckon the real number could be as high as five million - but implored fans not to go too far.

"It was unbelievable at times. Going up Holme Moss I had goosebumps," said Thomas, who did his job helping team leader Chris Froome to finish safely with the other general classification contenders in Sheffield.

"But for sure it was a bit dodgy at times as well. The worst thing is when people have got their back to the peloton taking selfies. There were a few. They don't see us coming, they're stood in the road and it's dodgy. If you want to do that, stand on a wall or something." Asked whether it was the new problem on the Tour, Thomas said: "It's the new pain in the a---. They were just stood in the gutter. They don't realise we use every part of the road. They are a lot of us and we use every inch. If you're on the front [of the peloton] you can see them but if you're two back you nearly hit them.

"I think people need to realise we take up the whole road. If you want to go and do that go and sit in a tree."

Thomas said the fact that the British public were newer to professional racing than their European counterparts might be partly to blame.

"There's not much racing on British road and people don't understand how fast we're going and how close we get. There have been too many accidents with riders hitting spectators we don't want to see that but it could easily happen."

At the Tour of Flanders in April a 65-year-old woman had to have two operations on her brain after being knocked over by Garmin-Sharp rider Johan Vansummeren at high speed, and riders are acutely sensitive to the dangers that crowds pose to them and vice versa.

"Some spectators were in the middle of the road taking pictures," said the German Marcel Kittel, who won Sunday's sprint finish in Harrogate. "Then there is the classic one where they are all in the road and when the peloton comes they move off but they leave grandma in the wheelchair still there. We are very happy to have them and it was an amazing crowd today but they have to take care to stay off the road."

Swiss one-day specialist Fabian Cancellara, who failed in a late bid for solo glory on Saturday, said then that he wanted to see the police get involved. "It's great to see such huge crowds but the police should do something about it tomorrow because our health is in danger," he said.

Today's stage feels like it has rather sprung up on residents of the south of England. With all the hype surrounding Yorkshire and the Grand Depart, relatively little attention has been paid to the third leg from Cambridge to London.

A sprint finish is guaranteed on a short flat 96-mile stage that wends its way through Saffron Walden, Chelmsford and Epping before reaching London, where it passes through the Olympic Park in Stratford and on to Canary Wharf and Westminster.

The Tour returns to France overnight ahead of tomorrow's (Tuesday's)fourth stage from Le Touquet to Lille.

- The Daily Telegraph

- NZ Herald

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