If you watch the Tour de France, you’ve likely already seen the results of the horrific crash produced by a woman holding out a cardboard sign to bearing a handwritten message to her relatives. She wanted to gain TV coverage for her family. Instead, the lead cyclists in the peloton smacked into the woman and her sign. That crash up front caused a chain reaction that left dozens of riders crushed and bleeding in their wake. One cyclist broke both his arms.
It’s bad enough when crashes happen because one rider touches the wheel of another. But the fact that this woman in her ignorance stepped in front of cyclists moving at least 25 mph on the road is heartbreaking.
We’ve seen crazy incidents before. Lance Armstrong once got tossed to the ground when he hooked his handlebars on a purse strap of some sort. A few years back a Tour cyclist named Johnny Hoogerland got rammed from the side by a motorbike. He was tossed through the air and landed on a barbed wire fence, tearing his kit and leaving bloody slashes on his buttocks.
The motivation for that woman to hold out that sign might have been innocent enough. Yet think about that: now she’s famous around the world for having wrecked the hopes of dozens of riders who trained all their lives for the chance to race in the Tour de France.
It’s hard to think of an example of a more ignorantly selfish moment in sports. Sure, Chicago Cubs fan blame the gentleman called Bartman for catching a foul ball that might have turned the game in favor for the home team. But he was legitimately parked in his own seat, wearing a baseball glove, doing the one thing fans dream about when they buy a ticket: catching a game ball.
One could argue that woman by the side of the road was doing what Tour fans do. The scene is always manic. Yet when asked if the race was better without fans present last year, cyclist Richie Porte gave a polite and obviously constrained reply that things like this are bound to happen in the Tour.
Porte is a class act for saying that, but I’ll bet that the cyclists at the Tour actually have a far less tolerant view of fans, especially on the mountain climbs where only a small corridor allows them passage up the slopes. I recall when Tour leader Alberto Contador punched a fan in the face to keep him from colliding with his bike, or him.
It’s a fact that people go insane in circumstances where crowds gather. They get caught up in the excitement and imagine themselves an integral part of the event, or even part of history. We’ve seen how crazy that can get in circumstances fueled by political motivations. The insurrection on the United States Capitol saw thousands of people go insane and break into the Capitol to loot and even threaten the lives of elected officials. The confessions of those caught and arrested for their treasonous exercise are telling. Here’s one example:
From the KLTA website: “Images of a man hanging from the Senate balcony during last week’s riot at the U.S. Capitol were plastered across TV screens and social media feeds with many people wondering who the dangling man might be.
According to CBS 2 in Boise, he’s a resident of Idaho who is now asking for forgiveness and saying he got “caught up in the moment.”
The man, identified by CBS 2 as Josiah Colt, had not been arrested as of Monday morning.
Colt deleted his social media accounts following the events. He then released a statement to CBS 2 that read in part, “I realize now that my actions were in appropriate and I beg for forgiveness from America and my home state of Idaho.”
That is no excuse. Nor should any of the people crushing police and waltzing through the Capitol be shown mercy for their participation. Their ignorance should be no protection for their insolence.
Whether by ignorance, choice. or chance, there are plenty of people who do stupid things in public places when excited by the notion of personal fame or accomplishment. Some aggressively embrace identities such as the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers, the KKK or lately, Antifa or the GOP or Trump…while deriving ugly amusement from the chaos. They feel it somehow empowers them to carry signs, fly flags or pledge loyalty to those who breed chaos for self-interest.
It’s always a heartbreaking sign bearing witness to such moments. Such is also the case with the lives of those cyclists involved in the crash. Their futures were forever changed by the careless and selfish actions of one woman “caught up in the moment” and trying to claim fame for herself and her family at one of the world’s biggest sporting events.
Yet there are many kinds of signs. Some are rhetorical. The most potent example is the Make America Great Again signholder who stood in front of America as a pandemic rushed full speed at the nation. All the selfish brute did was stand in front of the crowds to wave and claim, “It’s not real.” He even pretended all was fine when he almost died with oxygen levels in his body dropping to 80%. But he wanted to send a sign to the American people that Covid was not threat.
600,000 people died as a result of his heartbreaking lack of prescience, honesty, or grip on reality. Thousands more still fight the effects of the disease and we’re not even out of trouble yet because some people are still too stubborn and dumb to wear a mask in areas where Covid is still a threat. They refuse to protect themselves and others. They would rather focus on their self-interests than accept any call to be responsible citizens.
The woman wielding that sign at the Tour de France proved yet again that selfish interests are often the most damaging of all. But she’s not alone, that’s for sure. And that’s the heartbreaking sign of our age.