Spectator who caused Tour de France crash set to avoid jail

The spectator behind one of the biggest pile-ups in Tour de France history appeared in court yesterday charged with injuring dozens of riders, but seemed set to avoid jail after prosecutors demanded a suspended sentence.

The 31-year-old Frenchwoman, whose identity was withheld after she was targeted by a torrent of online abuse, has already told prosecutors of being ashamed at her "stupidity".

Wearing a blue sweater, she fled the scrum of journalists waiting at the courthouse in Brest, western France.

But the presiding judge rejected a request by her lawyer to have the trial held behind closed doors.

The prosecution requested that she be given a four-month suspended sentence on the charges of endangering lives and causing unintentional injuries.

Under French law, she could have faced a fine of up to 15,000 euros (S$23,500) and a year in prison for the charges.

Prosecutor Solenn Briand acknowledged that she had recognised "how dangerous" her conduct had been and had expressed regret.

The trial was adjourned for a verdict on Dec 9.

The woman, who has no criminal record, had attended the opening Tour stage on June 26 with the goal of getting a sign noticed by TV cameras.

It read "Allez, Opi-Omi", the German terms for "grandpa and granny", a nod to her family's roots. But she stepped out too far in front of the tightly packed peloton as they sped along a narrow road towards the finish at Landerneau in western France.

German rider Tony Martin was unable to avoid bumping into her and fell, forcing dozens of riders to crash while others swerved into the crowds of onlookers.

The women fled the scene and remained in hiding for four days before turning herself in to police, as video footage of the collision and ghastly scenes of medics tending to stunned or grimacing victims sparked outrage among fans and race organisers.

The woman's lawyer said his client had "a fragile personality for many years" and "is living through hell" after the incident.

Christian Prudhomme, director of the Tour, adopted a conciliatory tone over the case yesterday as he announced next year's route in Paris .

"She did something daft, she's no terrorist. We just want people to take care when they come to the Tour and remember they are there to see the champions and not to get on television," he told reporters.

But the International Association of Riders has maintained its complaint and is seeking a symbolic one euro in damages to send a message against dangerous fan behaviour. - AFP