CAMBRIDGE, England (VN) — In the calm before the start of Monday’s stage 3, Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) pointed to his right knee. Just a small scratch, but it could have been disastrous for the American podium favorite.
Van Garderen was knocked off his bike early in stage 2 on Sunday in a crash caused by fans edging onto the roadway to take “selfies.”
“There was somebody in the road that had his back to us, taking a ‘selfie.’ It caused a bit of a pileup,” van Garderen told VeloNews. “I didn’t hit that fan, I hit some riders who hit that fan. It didn’t end up causing too much damage. I fell off the bike. I had to get a bike change. You need to keep your eye out for fans.”
Van Garderen’s close call replayed itself over and over during the opening stages across Yorkshire. With record numbers of fans turning out to welcome the Tour, the narrow, twisting roads turned into a funnel of fans reaching in with cameras and smartphones, trying to capture the moment.
A Giant-Shimano rider clipped the arm of a fan taking a photo during a run-up to an intermediate sprint on Sunday. Other incidents also happened throughout the pandemonium of the stages.
Twitter was alight with messages from riders begging fans to stay off the roadways, and to not take “selfies.”
The self-portrait craze hit its nadir during the Giro d’Italia in Belfast when an over-zealous fan snapped a “selfie” with Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) after the German won the stage and collapsed on the ground in exhaustion from the effort.
With tens of thousands of fans lining the English roads 10-deep, things turned from party atmosphere to dangerous. Riders were relieved that no one, fans or racers, were seriously injured.
“It’s actually pretty dangerous,” Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) told VeloNews. “They have the reflex to turn around to take the pictures, and they’re not realizing there are 196 riders coming behind them.
“It seems to be the new fashion, and everyone wants to get that cool shot,” Roche continued. “I don’t think people realize how much it would hurt to get hit by a cyclist. People taking ‘selfies’ are actually causing a lot of crashes. The riders throw themselves into the bunch to avoid hitting the public.”
The problem of the “selfie” phenomenon was compounded by a record number of fans who are relatively inexperienced with the sport.
Cycling has boomed in Great Britain over the past decade, as Team Sky, led by Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, has won back-to-back Tours.
That’s brought millions of new fans to the sport, and with the Tour spinning over British soil for just the fourth time, it seems all of them wanted to see the race in person.
Many are hopeful that things will calm down once the Tour returns to France for Tuesday’s stage 4.
“It will be different in France,” said Tinkoff-Saxo manager Bjarne Riis. “The French fans know cycling. Here, they are new to the sport, and don’t know how dangerous it is for the riders, and them.”
For GC riders like van Garderen, fans taking self-portraits with their iPhones are just another hazard to avoid in the long and treacherous road to Paris.
“That’s always the first week’s goal of the Tour, stay upright and stay out of trouble,” he said. “We’re staying out of trouble, working well together, staying focused, having some fun. We’ve just got to keep it rolling. We hope we can keep it like this all the way to Paris.”
After Sunday’s close call, don’t expect too many “selfies” from van Garderen.
“I’ve never been a fan of ‘selfies.’ It seems kind of vain,” van Garderen said with a laugh. “”Man, I am looking so good right now, I need to document this moment – click!’ Come on.”