A roadside spectator holding a cardboard sign caused a massive pile-up during the first stage of the Tour de France, which left several top riders being held up on Saturday, while another huge pileup with 7.5 km left brought down Chris Froome and others.
In the first crash, German Tony Martin was sent tumbling when he rode straight into the sign, which said “Allez Opi-Omi” (Come on granddad-granny, in a mix of French and German) amid scenes of chaos with 47km left.
Tour de France organisers Amaury Sport Organisation told Reuters they were suing the spectator who caused the incident.
Overall contenders Tao Geoghegan Hart of Britain, as well as Colombian Miguel Angel Lopez, were among the riders being held up and lost considerable time on the opening day of the three-week race.
Belgian Wout van Aert, one of the favourites for the stage win, was also slowed down but made it back to the main bunch after a long effort, just like eventual stage winner Julian Alaphilippe, who had blood dripping from his knee when he crossed the line.
“I hope everyone is OK. I'm calling on the fans to be careful. It's nice to see the fans back on the side of the road, but please be careful,” said Alaphilippe.
German Jasha Suetterlin of Team DSM was consequently the first rider to abandon the race after being sent to the ground by the crash.
The second crash brought down Froome and many others including Marc Haller, Andre Greipel and Ion Izagirre as bikes were sent flying to the side of the road.
Froome climbed back on his bike after being attended to by a race doctor but looked in considerable pain when he crossed the line 14:37 behind Alaphilippe.
The Briton, a four-time Tour champion, was back on the race after missing the last two editions following a horrific crash in June 2019.
Even before the crash he had little hope of winning the race, having failed to recover his best form.
Alaphilippe recovered from a crash to win the first stage, an incident-strewn 197.8-km ride from Brest, to take the inaugural leader's yellow jersey on Saturday.
The world champion burst away from the main pack with 2.3-km left of a brutal climb up to the Cote de la Fosse aux Loups, and none of his rivals could match his power.
Australian Michael Matthews took second place, with Slovenian Primoz Roglic coming home third, eight seconds behind, with most of the top favourites including defending champion Tadej Pogacar and 2018 winner Geraint Thomas on their wheels.
“I really wanted to win this stage, my (Deceuninck-Quick Step) team believed in me and protected me all day long, I had to finish it off in the last ascent,” said Alaphilippe, his knee bloodied from an earlier crash.
“I attacked far from the line to test my rivals but when I saw there was a gap I thought I should continue.”
Hot favourite Mathieu van der Poel, who was out to take the fabled “Maillot Jaune” on his debut – a feat never achieved by his French grandfather Raymond Poulidor in 14 appearances despite eight podium finishes – had too much of an effort to make at the foot of the last climb after being held up, and had to settle for 20th in the end.