Bradley Wiggins retained the overall lead in the Tour de France after a stage marred by a spate of punctures caused by metal tacks thrown on the road.
Race organizers condemned the sabotage by a few spectators as stupid and dangerous. About 30 riders, including Wiggins and defending champion Cadel Evans, had punctures during yesterday’s 14th stage, which was won by Spain’s Luis Leon Sanchez.
“What can you do? It’s something we can’t control,” Wiggins told reporters. “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.”
The 191-kilometer (118-mile) route from Limoux to Foix was the first in the Pyrenees and featured two category-one climbs, including the final Mur de Peguere with an incline of 18 percent in places. The punctures didn’t ultimately affect the leaders’ placings in the overall classification.
Today’s 15th stage is a 158.5-kilometer ride from Samatan to Pau. The Tour ends July 22 in Paris.
One or two spectators threw small nails on to the road yesterday, race official Jean-Francois Pescheux was cited as saying by Agence France-Presse.
“We don’t know why,” he said. “The nails were mainly thrown on the ground around 200 meters from the summit of the Peguere climb. At the end, some riders ended up with two or three nails in their tires.”
Sanchez went clear of a breakaway about 10 kilometers from the end of the stage to clinch his fourth career stage win in the Tour. Then came green-jersey holder Peter Sagan, 47 seconds behind, with Sandy Casar, Philippe Gilbert and Gorka Izaguirre.
Wiggins leads by two minutes, five seconds from Team Sky teammate Chris Froome after both finished in the main group. Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas is 18 seconds further back, followed by Evans. The Australian, who had to make three wheel changes in a 10-minute span yesterday, remains 3:19 behind Wiggins, who slowed the pace to allow Evans to return to the peloton.
Wiggins wore the leader’s yellow jersey for a seventh day, a record for a British rider. A Briton has never won the Tour.
The 11-rider breakaway went about 14 minutes clear with 40 kilometers to go as they neared the final ascent. The leading group was strung out on the last climb, with Sagan under pressure as Sanchez and then Casar pushed ahead at the front.
Casar led the way down the descent on a 38-kilometer run-in to the finish. Sagan then took over the lead before Sanchez, from the Rabobank team, broke away to win.
While the breakaway riders weren’t affected by punctures, the main group was. Evans had a puncture at the top of the climb and lost time as his replacement wheel also punctured.
The peloton maintained a steady pace under Team Sky’s control, waiting for BMC Racing’s Evans to recover in line with Tour etiquette. Although Pierre Rolland attacked, he was eventually absorbed into the pack.
“So many guys punctured at once, it became quite apparent very quickly that something was up,” said Wiggins, who criticized Rolland for the breakaway.
“It was a little bit uncouth,” Wiggins added. “It didn’t seem the honorable thing to do, to benefit from other people’s misfortune.”
Rolland defended his actions.
“It was only when I was caught by the peloton and they asked my why I’d attacked that I found out there had been mass punctures,” he told reporters. “What they’re accusing me of saddens me. I’m really sorry.”
Evans suffered two more flats on the way down, though got back in action quickly. Wiggins also had a blowout before rejoining the peloton on the descent.
By the end of the stage, the main group had got back together and finished riding a steady tempo, more than 18 minutes behind the stage winner.
“We came back with the whole group and Sky was really honest and didn’t attack in the front,” John Lelangue, sporting director of Evans’s BMC team, told his team’s website. “They were really fair.”