I love cycling, and I love watching the pros push themselves to the absolute limit for the chance to don the famous maillot jaune.
But if my son told me he wanted to be a professional cyclist, my mind would instantly turn to the obvious dangers in a sport that relies on 25 mm of rubber to keep riders upright when flying down alpine cliffs at close to 100 km/h.
At this level, the margins between winning and crashing are razor-thin.
This list of the most infamous Tour de France crashes is not intended to trivialize or celebrate misfortune.
Crashes in professional cycling are extremely dangerous and can cause serious injuries to cyclists and spectators. The recent death of Gino Mäder at the Tour de Suisse serves as a tragic reminder of how much is risked by cyclists each time they race.
Though debate is raging over potential additional safety measures that could be introduced, the fact remains that danger is an inherent part of cycling. As this list will explore, many of the most infamous moments in the modern history of the Tour de France come from these shocking moments.
#1: “Allez Opi-Omi” (2021)
There is a sort of nervous energy that fizzles through the peloton during the first few stages of any Tour de France.
Everyone wants that yellow jersey on their backs, even if it is just for a single stage. No one wants to crash and ruin all the training and sacrifice that it took to get there.
But the crash on the first stage of the 2021 Tour de France cannot be blamed on nerves – more stupidity.
The crash, which basically took out the entire peloton, happened 45 km from the finish when Tony Martin crashed into the back of a spectator who was jutting out onto the road with her back to the rapidly approaching peloton.
The crash inevitably reverberated all the way through the peloton. Some riders got off lightly whilst others were forced to abandon, having barely broken a sweat.
Footage of the crash found its way across social media, and soon an ill-tempered hunt was on for the sign-wielding perpetrator. Despite her face being all over the internet, she had apparently vanished.
Emotions were running high amongst riders and pundits alike, and the story took on a life of its own. This lady with the “ALLEZ OPI-OMI” sign was public enemy number one.
After four days in hiding, the guilty spectator finally handed herself in to the police and was promptly arrested.
At her trial, she was found guilty of putting others in danger and involuntarily causing injuries. By this point, saner heads had prevailed, and the cycling world just wanted to see the back of the incident.
#2: History (Almost) Repeats Itself on the Col de Portet-d’Aspet (2017)
As Phillipe Gilbert was pushing the limits of friction down the technical descent of the Col de Portet-d’Aspet, he misjudged a tight left-hander. He managed to scrub off some of the speed and unclip from one pedal, but he must have known that he was going to hit the wall.
What he didn’t know was what was beyond that wall. He was to find out soon as he somersaulted straight over his handlebars and into the great unknown.
As viewers waited to catch a glimpse over the wall and to see the damage, thoughts immediately turned to 1995 on the very same roads where Fabio Casartelli crashed and suffered a fatal head injury.
Eventually, bystanders pulled Gilbert back up over the wall. He was bloodied and bruised but dusted himself off, hopped on his bike, and rode the remaining 57 km to finish the stage. He did this despite suffering from a fractured kneecap.
Don’t be fooled by the Lycra; road cyclists are hard as nails.
#3: Running Up That Hill (2016)
Let’s rewind a little bit and find out why he decided to go for a leisurely run in the middle of a bike race.
The stage itself had been shortened due to high winds at the summit finish. This had the unintended but inevitable consequence of squashing thousands of fans across even less road.
As the front group fought for the stage win, fans and cyclists were fighting for space on the crowded road. It was single-file traffic through the wall of noise, with fans jostling to get a glimpse of the passing action.
With the action in the final stages of the climb heating up, the energy boiled over, and a fan stood right in the path of one of the many motorbikes trying to part the sea ahead of the riders.
With nowhere to go, the motorbike came to a stop. With his head down and legs screaming, Richie Porte went into the back of the moto and was on the deck before he could even process what had just happened.
The domino effect then quickly brought down Chris Froome and Baulk Molema, who ended up in a tangled heap of bikes and skinny legs.
Molema remounted quickly, but Froome’s bike was beyond repair. With his nearest GC rival Nairo Quintana closing in, Froome panicked and started to run the final kilometers to the finish.
The image of Froome desperately running up Mont Ventoux, complete with a helmet, is one for the ages.
If only someone had told him that although the rules allow you to walk across the line, you still need to be at least pushing your bike. Perhaps he thought he could borrow a spectator’s bike near the finish line.
In the end, he did manage to get a spare bike and get to the line but having lost valuable time to Quintana.
The organizers had to act and essentially neutralized the stage where the crash happened, with all stage times being taken at this point.
Once again, the incident reignited the debate around balancing rider safety with fan access in this uniquely open sport.
#4: Mystery Crash Brings Down Half The Women’s Peloton (2022)
Stage 5 of the 2022 Tour de France Femmes was a rolling transitional stages to bring the riders to the real test in the Vosges Mountains. It unfortunately included one of the worst crashes in the short history of the Tour de France Femmes.
With riders hoping for a relatively quiet day in the saddle, fate had other plans. On a straight road with plenty of room, a small lapse in concentration took down more than 50 riders in a heartbeat.
It was one of the worst women’s Tour de France crashes since the race had been reintroduced.
Looking down from the helicopter cameras, the scene resembled the aftermath of a particularly bloody battle. Bikes and riders lay strewn across the tarmac.
There were various theories in the peloton as to the cause of the crash, from a bag of food to a dropped bidon, but it was most likely something as innocuous as a rider losing concentration for a split second after four and a half hours riding.
#5. Cavendish Shunted by Sagan (2017)
Sprinters are a different breed of cyclist altogether. They endure hundreds of kilometers and brutal climbs, always dicing with the broom wagon at their tail, just for a shot at glory in the last 500m to the line.
They explode out of well-drilled sprint trains and wrestle for their position on the road with their rivals at speeds of 60km/h.
No rider wants to give up a single inch of the road.
Being part of a bunch sprint is not for the faint-hearted, and most sprinters have a pretty short shelf life at the very top of the game. They might still have the legs, but they start to hesitate, and the chance is gone.
This cannot be said about Mark Cavendish. His instincts remain just as sharp as his will to win. But even the Manx Missile is not invincible.
His luck ran out in the final 200 m of the fourth stage of the 2017 Tour de France into Vittel.
As Frenchman Arnaud Démare launched his sprint for the line, Cavendish tried to squeeze in the smallest gap between Peter Sagan and the barriers. As he tried to force his way past Sagan, the Slovakian cult hero appeared to flick out his right elbow and nudge Cavendish into the hoardings.
With the cameras looking straight down the sprint, the crash looked horrendous. Cav flipped through the air and landed heavily on his right shoulder.
Lying prostrate and unmoving on the ground, John Degenkolb rode straight over Cavendish.
Démare raised his hands as he crossed the line a split second later, oblivious to the carnage unfolding behind him, but the recriminations would rumble on well after the stage.
Cavendish gingerly crossed the line after managing to haul himself back to his feet, but it was obvious his Tour was over due to his injuries.
Cycling’s governing body swiftly disqualified fan-favorite Sagan from the Tour de France, having judged the elbow movement to be deliberate.
The crash cast a shadow across the rest of the race as it rumbled on through France. Sagan was not only the reigning world champion but also one of the few stars of the sport who transcended cycling.
His disqualification was a major statement by Tour organizers.
#6. Idiotic Media Car launches Hoogerland into Barbed Wire (2011)
Stage 9 of the 2011 Tour de France saw an accident that will be frustratingly familiar to incidents or near misses we might have experienced for ourselves out on the roads.
A France Television car failed miserably to get past the front of the breakaway and collided with Juan Antonio Flecha. Flecha was completely blindsided by the reckless driver and hit the deck.
Jonny Hoogerland, riding behind the Spaniard, was catapulted off his bike and straight into a barbed wire fence in the ditch.
When he was finally cut loose from the wire, Hoogerland’s body was laced with nasty cuts.
After all that, he remarkably got back on the bike and finished the stage to secure the famous polka dot King of the Mountains jersey. Less surprisingly, he won the combativity award for the stage.
It would take a further three and half years for Hoogerland to receive any compensation from France 2.