FOIX, France — Crashes, falls, fractures – Bradley Wiggins has seen it all. Now add tacks and nails to list. Still, nothing can break his stranglehold on the Tour de France.
On a day of sabotage in the Pyrenees, Wiggins had luck on his side. He avoided the chaos and spent another trouble-free stage as his Sky team controlled his main rivals to protect his yellow jersey.
At least 30 riders were disrupted by tire punctures at the top of the final climb after tacks and small nails were tossed on the road. Tour officials asked police to investigate.
Defending champion Cadel Evans was caught in the havoc. He had to wait three times for assistance. He lost nearly two minutes at one point before teammates arrived and gave the former world champion a rear wheel.
But Wiggins honored cycling etiquette by not attempting to capitalize on Evans’ misfortune. He urged the peloton to slow down to allow Evans to return to the pack. Wiggins and Evans finished in the same time – 18 minutes, 15 seconds behind Luis Leon Sanchez of Spain, who won the 119-mile, 14th stage between Limoux and Foix.
This was the first day of racing in the Pyrenees, and Wiggins kept his overall lead of 2:05 over Sky teammate Christopher Froome. Vincenzo Nibali of Italy is third, 2:23 off the pace while Evans remains fourth, 3:19 behind.
After crashing out of the race with a broken collarbone last year, Wiggins has been enjoying the perfect Tour so far with the help of a team dedicated to his quest for cycling’s most revered prize.
With only two big mountain stages remaining before the race ends in Paris next Sunday, and a long time trial where Wiggins is expected to blow his rivals apart, the former Olympic track champion looks all but guaranteed to become the first Brit to win the Tour. Yet, he is well aware of the dangers that can arise anywhere.
“What can you do? It’s something we can’t control,” Wiggins said, referring to the sabotage that could have led to a reshuffle of the standings.
“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. I think people take that for granted sometimes, just how close they can get to us.”
From time to time, stray dogs or photograph-snapping fans get hit by speeding riders. On Friday, Wiggins was hit on the arm and received minor burns from a flare waved by a spectator.
“We’re just the riders at the end of the day and we’re there to be shot at, literally.” Wiggins said.