One of the points I have been making recently whilst the Olympic torch/flame has been doing its national tour is that the biggest sporting event in the world (as in attended by most people) is free. None of this palava about buying lucky tickets like some kind of Willie Wonka competition entrant. You turn up (7 or 8 hours in advance on the Champs Elysees, the night before on the mountain stages) and grab your spot. The only thing that has puzzled me over the years, and will perplex me again this Sunday, is why on the Champs Elysees you have double barriers whilst on all the other sections (including those in Paris) the barriers are right up against the road - is it because most of the people on the Champs are unruly tourists? No, I don't think so I think it's because of the higher kerbs and the possible danger of somebody leaning forward and falling into the road, the advertising boards used on the other stages lean into the crowd, that wouldn't be possible on the Champs.
Anyway the events of the last week, and in particular yesterday, have caused people in France (and beyond) to do that strokey beard thing and contemplate the meaning of life with extra barriers. Not only have we had flares let off on bends (see Bradley Wiggins arm last week), we've had spectators hitting riders (by accident it would assume) in the face, spectators colliding with riders whilst trying to get that crucial photograph ('and this one is Tyler Farrar just before the ambulance took me away with a broken leg) and now the contents of a box of carpet tacks on the course.
The Tour de France isn't immune from protests, way back in the mists of time (well 1904 to be precise) carpet tacks were the weapon of choice for a disgruntled spectator and over the years we've seen tractors used as barricades by farmers protesting against cuts in EU subsidies, lorry drivers protesting against fuel price increases and Basque separatists complaining about a shortage of the letters x and z on the leaderboard - it's okay I'm joking (or bromas if you prefer). The difference being that generally you can see a tractor, lorry or carelessly discarded consonants, with tacks it's different, you can't spot them when you are doing upwards of 50 k.p.h on the descent of a mountain and yesterday there were 28 punctures, poor old Cadel Evans had three in as many minutes. If this was a crime drama on television then Hercule Poirot, or Jules Maigret as we are in France, would have visited all the ironmongers in the area, obtained a list of customers who have an interest in carpeting and eliminated anybody who didn't have immediate access to a set of carpet laying tools.
This alas is real life and the debate about 'open access' has begun. The problem is though that as with most criminal acts the perpetrator(s) are not going to be standing tacks in hand when Moto 1 (the lead TV crew) passes they will be in an area where television coverage is at its minimum and the possible damage caused is at its maximum. Barriers will not solve this issue, all you would need would be somebody with a hole in their pocket who was prepared to suffer a few scratches as the pointy objects made their way down his leg and voila - think The Great Escape with tacks replacing dirt passing through the trousers of David McCallum.
The open accessibility of the tour is one of the great attractions, for those seeking pleasure in a variety of ways, and to limit that would destroy the atmosphere. Of course the logical answer is self-policing and you would hope that should a member of public spot somebody throwing anything near the road they would report it to the nearest Gendarme.