Wiggins survives tin-tack attack to retain yellow jersey on controversial seventh day
06:33 GMT, 16 July 2012
Vandals marred stage 14 of the Tour de France on Sunday as carpet tacks thrown on to the road caused more than 30 punctures for riders in the peloton on the final climb.
When the day was over, French police had been asked to open an investigation into the sabotage — and Bradley Wiggins’s stature as a sportsman of moral standing had been impressively underscored.
The man who wears the race leader’s yellow jersey also controls the peloton and when one of his main rivals, Cadel Evans, punctured at the summit of the Mur de Peguere 24 miles from the finish in Foix, Wiggins chose to wait for the Australian and ordered the other leading riders to do the same.
Seventh heaven: Wiggins retains the yellow jersey once again
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It was an act of sportsmanship appreciated by Evans, his BMC team and the Tour organisers after the 2011 winner’s stage had been thrown into chaos.
With the BMC team car halfway down a climb which was so narrow the riders were no more than three abreast, Evans looked around forlornly for a team-mate to give him a new back wheel.
When one arrived, Britain’s Stephen Cummings, he too had punctured, leaving the pair of them to give a passable impression of two stranded hitchhikers.
Eventually another team-mate arrived at the summit and gave Evans his wheel, only for him to puncture again inside a mile. This time the team car caught him up, only for the mechanic tending to Evans to slip over twice and fall into the ditch at the side of the road. The slapstick didn’t end until Evans had endured a third puncture; by this time, Wiggins had suffered a flat tyre of his own.
Far ahead, Spain’s Luis Leon Sanchez, one of a breakaway group of riders who passed the climb before the tacks were thrown, carried on serenely to claim the stage win.
Elsewhere, Astana rider Robert Kiserlovski suffered a fall and broke his collarbone, though it is not known if the Croat’s crash was as a result of a puncture, while France’s Pierre Rolland attacked the peloton twice — he later feigned ignorance of any gentlemen’s agreement — and earned words of disgust from Wiggins.
Job done: Luis-Leon Sanchez celebrates as he crosses the finishing line and at the presentation
BMC team manager John Lelangue summed up the carnage best of all. He said simply: ‘It was a criminal act by hooligans.’
Wiggins was more deliberate in the delivery of his words but equally stringent in his verdict. He shrugged his shoulders and said: ‘What can you do It’s something we can’t control. It’s sad but those are the type of things we have to put up with as cyclists. If that happened in a football stadium or wherever, you’d be arrested and seen on CCTV. But we are out there quite vulnerable at times, very close to the public on climbs.
‘There is nothing to stop more of that stuff happening. We’re just riders at the end of the day and we’re there to be shot at. Literally. I just thought it was the honourable thing to do to wait for Cadel. No-one wants to benefit from someone else’s misfortune.’
As for Rolland’s attack, Wiggins added: ‘I thought it was a little bit uncouth at that time. So many guys punctured at once, it became quite apparent very quickly that something was up. He didn’t just attack once, he attacked twice. It didn’t seem very honourable.’
High hopes: the pack twist through the mountain roads
High in the mountains with thousands of spectators pressing in to try to get a glimpse of and urge on the riders as they pass, the cyclists often have to ride in single file.
The cries and bellows are such that the underhand throwing of a few dozen tacks would not be heard and, with all eyes on the cyclists, could be done without anyone noticing.
The Tour organisers have cars driving ahead of the race to monitor road conditions and remove obstacles, but not between groups of riders. With no television cameras posted up trees and mountain bushes, the culprit will never be apprehended.
Jean-Francois Pescheux, competitions director of Tour organisers ASO, said: ‘We’ve found some of the tacks. They are the kind you find in mattresses or carpets. Some of the riders had three or four nails in their tyres. They are imbeciles to have done this. What else can you say’
Under at-tack: Around 30 punctures, including three for Cadel Evans (below) marred Stage 14
There are precedents. Tacks were thrown on to the road in 1996 but caused more punctures to cars and motorbikes on that occasion, while three years ago on the stage to Colmar, riders Oscar Freire and Julian Dean were shot by an air rifle.
At least such incidents are now isolated, unlike the 1904 Tour, whose scandal became the stuff of legend — and not just for nails and broken glass found on the road that year.
On one occasion a group of riders was attacked by four masked men, while the cyclists weren’t wholly innocent, with some of them accused of taking the train for part of the route.
Still, there is a week left in this Tour yet.
TV: Stage 15 — LIVE on Monday: British Eurosport at 12.30pm, and ITV4 at 2pm.
Team effort: Wiggins rides along with the other members of Team Sky
Seventh heaven: Wiggins has broken Chris Boardman's British record