World cycling boss: Tragedy is inevitable unless fan behaviour improves

Kiwi rider George Bennett (L). Photo / Getty Images.
Kiwi rider George Bennett (L). Photo / Getty Images.

In the wake of Kiwi rider George Bennett crashing into a spectator, world cycling boss Brian Cookson has warned a tragedy is inevitable if fans continue to show reckless behaviour at the Tour de France.

After race favourite Chris Froome's forearm to the face of a Colombian fan who almost knocked him off his bike on Saturday, the Tour de France suffered yet another incident with a spectator overnight when Bennett sent a fan who got in his way sprawling to the tarmac.

Concerns have been raised in recent days about the safety and security of riders in the face of reckless behaviour from fans, with UCI president Cookson telling the London Telegraph that it would not take much for "something tragic" to happen and imploring fans not to get too close to the action.

Froome was fined 200 Swiss Francs by race officials for 'incorrect behaviour' after - in his own words - he "lashed out" at the Colombian fan on Saturday.

Most within the sport, though, sympathised with the Team Sky rider for taking the law into his own hands. As Froome explained afterwards the fan in question had a flag that could have got caught on his handlebars or wheels. Any contact could have been the end of his race. And Froome will certainly have memories of this time last year when he was shouted at, spat at and allegedly had urine thrown at him by roadside spectators.

The increase in bad behaviour, often fuelled by a long day's drinking in the sun, is a serious concern to Cookson.

"Our sport usually is a great free show," he said. "But it does depend on all of us behaving appropriately. I've said before I don't really like to see guys in fancy dress running alongside the riders - the last thing you want as a rider is someone shouting in your ear and waving a flag at you and almost knocking you off. It wouldn't take too much of a step for something tragic to happen."

Bennett admitted he was unnerved by his incident overnight.

"It's hard to describe what it's like riding in the Tour with all these fans. It's awesome I love the fans, it's what makes it what it is but I don't think a lot of people understand how fast you're moving," Bennett told Radio Sport's Elliott Smith.

"In this case it was on a righthand corner and a rider come past just in front of me then a little gap and they stepped out right in front of me...without even looking back at me.
"I had half a second to react. My bars were going to hit them or my shoulder. I managed to just get my handlebars out of harm's way."

On Friday a fan inadvertently caused an inflatable arch to collapse on the British rider Adam Yates, causing him to fly over his handlebars and land on his face.

Sunday's incident was again accidental, the fan in question stepping blithely into the path of the oncoming Bennett at a bend in the road. Bennett, though, managed to drop his shoulder and send the fan flying rather than the other way around.

Former All Black Conrad Smith, who was present at yesterday's stage, would surely have approved. - Telegraph and staff writers

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