What's up with the spectators at the Tour de France?

I am watching the 19th stage as I write this… really the first time I’ve ever watched on TV. So anyway, what’s up with people being allowed to walk in the middle of the road? And even worse, what’s with people waving towels in Armstrongs face? Are they trying to make him crash? Is this how it’s always been? That’s pretty fucked up.
Also, is there any plan to try to fence the people in?
I know it’s a lof of questions, more than a rant, but it’s dangerous, and it kind of pisses me off.

It’s a combination, I think, of anti-American fervor and the firm, long-held belief in that area that Armstrong is cheating.

I don’t think it’s usual behavior. I don’t follow the Tour, but here, it’s quite impossible not to watch footages of it if you own a TV. Generally, you see people massed on the side of the roads. I too watched a footage yesterday where people were all on the road, only inches apart the cyclists, actually blocking the way and moving away just at the last possible moment. I even heard that one of the competitors got lost in the crowd. I didn’t see the towel thing, though.
I was pretty surprised and since I had never noticed that before, I assume it’s an abnormal situation. I couldn’t swear it, though. For all I know it could happen often when they enter cities at the end of the stage.

Thinking twice about the towels, it might actually be intended to refresh him rather than making him crash. I know that the public often throw water at the competitors for this purpose. Maybe they were doing the same with wet towels? Just a wild guess, though.

The most disgusting thing to me were people spitting at him.

Well, most every rider gets crowded on these climbing TT’s, although Armstrong commented that this year a combination of l’Alpe and not putting up barriers on Plateau de Beille created an unneccessarily unsafe situation. At l’Alpe, most of the poeple crowding were being, well, nice and cheering the riders on, but perhaps not realizing how annoying they could be. Plateau de Beille was quite a different story because it had a lot of very trashed and very upset Basques on it. If you look carefully at the orange fans (Mayo’s team colors), some of the people are flipping Armstrong the bird. However, people right next door are clapping and cheering. Polite etiquette dictates that, no matter who you want to win, you at least expend the energy to encourage anyone who comes past.

http://www.velonews.com/tour2004/details/articles/6594.0.html

And yes, they’re assholes. (Bird-flippers, not clappers)

The Tour has been careful not to clamp down too hard; a big part of the fun of bike races is camping out, setting up the BBQ, getting trashed, and yelling. Please note Postal-fan in green-inner tube. He never obstructed the riders when I was watching, and things like that help spice it up and make it interesting. In what other sport can you get so close to the stars? Some people take it too far. Even peole that mean to run along-side and encourage often get in the way.

In other words, it’s another one of the challenges of being a bike-racer, although in some situations the Tour could stand more on the side of putting up baricades.

It’s not a new phenomenon and I haven’t noticed it being directed particularly at one rider. You always get the people standing in front and moving out of the way at the last minute before making a gap, you always get people waving banners and flags and you always get some idiots running alongside the riders. Bear in mind that some of these people have been on the mountainside getting drunk for several days! Riders have been knocked off by clumsy spectators before, although less than you’d probably expect from watching.

Fencing off the course is not really feasible though, unless anyone has two and a half thousand miles of fence?

Another thing I’ve noticed is that when the cameraman is right behind the rider, with a fair degree of zoom utilised, there is foreshortening of the perspective, such that the people who seem to be jumping out of the way right at the last second, are actually a bit further from the rider than you’d think.

This happens all the time. In a flat TT, the riders are simply going to fast for the fans to be out in the road. Climbing the mountains (TT or regular stage), the riders are going much slower. Some spectators are cheering, some are jeering. It’s a sporting event!!

What is the point of the inner-tube? To keep the crowd out of his personal space?

I’m just glad it’s over and I no longer have to listen to hick local sportscasters refer to the “Tour de Frawwwwwwwwwwwwwwwnce.”

This is common, and there are many instances of fans punching or kicking riders in the history of the Tour de France. Eddie Merckx was punched when he was a rider, so attributing rowdy fan behavior to anti-Americanism is pretty dumb. Fans get drunk and are idiots all over the world.

Cheering and jeering is one thing, spitting on the guys is something else. Those guys should have their legs broken.

Exactly. And if it wasn’t for that, he would have won 6 tours. And Coppi if it wasn’t for that little world war. And Big-Mig probably as well if it wasn’t for a team mutiny. In fact, Lance Armstrong was probably pretty lucky to avoid any serious bad luck in all of his Tour wins.