Tour de France riders have already battled crashes, flares, and fans and dogs straying onto the road. Then on Sunday, some ne’er-do-well dumped tacks on the road and if the aim was to disrupt cycling’s biggest race, it worked, but as cyclists often do in the face of difficulty, they kept going.
Bradley Wiggins of Britain, the Queen Bee of the peloton because he is wearing the yellow jersey, drew plaudits for at least slowing the pace and waiting for defending champion Cadel Evans on stage 14.
Tour officials estimated that about 30 competitors in the peloton blew flats near the day’s steepest climb, the Mur de Peguere, as Luis Leon Sanchez led a breakaway far ahead of the trouble to win the stage. One rider crashed as a result of the tacks.
French police — who line the course route by the hundreds for crowd control each stage — were investigating the rare, if not unprecedented incident in a sport already saddled with issues from doping to crashes.
One of the great appeals of cycling — that it’s free for the fans — is equally its susceptibility. Despite organizers’ best efforts, fans with nefarious motives can disrupt cycling races and the Tour is no exception.
Wiggins, the 32-year-old leader of Team Sky hoping to become Britain’s first winner of the Tour, had luck on his side. He avoided the chaos and spent another trouble-free stage as his team controlled his main rivals to protect his yellow jersey.
Evans, though, was caught in the havoc. He had to wait three times for help dealing with flats. He lost nearly two minutes at one point, before teammates arrived and gave the former world champion a rear wheel.
Wiggins honored cycling etiquette by not attempting to capitalize on Evans’ misfortune. He urged the peloton to slow down to allow Evans to return. Wiggins and Evans then finished in the same time, 18 minutes, 15 seconds behind Sanchez, the winner of the 191km ride between Limoux and Foix in southern France.
It was the race entree to the Pyrenees. Wiggins kept his overall lead of 2 minutes, 5 seconds over Sky teammate Christopher Froome. Vincenzo Nibali of Italy is third, 2:23 back, while Evans remains fourth, 3:19 behind.
With only two big mountain stages remaining before the race ends in Paris on Sunday, and a long time trial in which Wiggins is expected to blow away his rivals, the British former Olympic track champion appears well set to win the three-week race, but he knows of the unforeseen hazards, such as crashes, illness or even tacks.
“What can you do? It’s something we can’t control,” Wiggins said. “There’s nothing stopping more of that sort of stuff happening. It’s sad. Those are the type of things we have to put up with as cyclists.”
From time to time, stray dogs or photograph-snapping fans get hit by speeding riders. On Friday, Wiggins was hit on the arm and sustained minor burns from a flare waved by a spectator. Three years ago, Oscar Freire and Julien Dean were hit by pellets from an air rifle.
“We’re out there, quite vulnerable at times, very close to the public on climbs,” Wiggins said. “We’re just the riders at the end of the day and we’re there to be shot at, literally.”
Speaking on French TV, race director Jean-Francois Pescheux commended Team Sky for encouraging the peloton to not speed ahead. He said a hunt for the culprit would be difficult because thousands of fans were on the roadside.