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FOIX, France (VN) — Tacks tossed into the road atop the day’s final climb and descent led to dozens of punctures on stage 14 of the Tour de France, three of which affected defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing).
“It had nothing to do with the race itself. I don’t know what it has to do with. Someone made a very stupid decision to put tacks in the road,” said BMC Racing manager Jim Ochowicz. “You could hear them in the road. I’ll bet all the car tires in the race have tacks their tires.”
It’s hypothesized that one or two people threw tacks near the summit of the Mur de Peguere climb, a category 1 ascent that featured a bike-path-narrow road and loud, rowdy crowds.
According to the medical report, Robert Kiserlovski (Astana) suffered a broken collarbone due to a crash around the tacks, and American Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) was treated for road rash at the same point on the road.
“That doesn’t stand up to me. That smacks of cowardice,” said Sky manager Dave Brailsford at the team bus. “If you want to say something, fair enough. Hold your hand up, stick your head up and say what you want to say, no problem at all. Everybody’s entitled to an opinion. It’s a free world, isn’t it? If people want to speak their mind, that’s fine. But why put people’s lives at risk?”
A statement by race organisers ASO (Amaury Sports Organisation) said management has decided to lodge a formal complaint with police over the incident.
“We condemn this irresponsible and dangerous behavior, which amounts to an attempt to harm the physical integrity of the riders and the smooth functioning of the race,” the statement read.
The public prosecutor in Foix later announced it had opened a preliminary investigation into the incident.
“The investigation will be taken over by special branch from the Toulouse and Saint Girons gendarmerie. They have been sent to the site to collect statements and testimony from witnesses,” Marilyn Blanc, the vice-procurator, told AFP.
Blanc said that testimony may also be taken from the riders who fell victim to the incident.
All told, there were about 30 punctures, though no gains were made due to flats, as Sky and maillot jaune Bradley Wiggins (Sky) sat up and made it clear there would be no attacking Evans due to his punctures. Pierre Rolland (Europcar) rode off the front initially, but was later reeled back in after being instructed to sit up. Wiggins would later have to take a bike change himself.
“It’s a hard sport. People really, really suffer day in and day out, shoulder to shoulder. What you don’t want to do is take any unfair advantage. And I think that goes for most sport, certainly this sport,” Brailsford said. “Most people win the race with their legs.”
There were long seconds when Evans was standing on the side of the road, shouting for help. Ochowicz slipped in a ditch — twice — trying to help the defending champion.
Asked what happened, Evans replied sarcastically: “Nails, protesters or some kind-hearted people on the road.
“The world is full of people like that, unfortunately — not full, but. … You’re in a bike race and people can see something they can gain, whether it’s a protest or something they can gain from you as someone who’s reasonably well-known.
“I’m used to people — the ‘me me’ generation, it’s sometimes referred to. That’s the way it goes.
“Hopefully … karma comes around.”
Evans’ teammate Tejay van Garderen was near him when Evans flatted, but didn’t fall back to help his captain.
“I heard he had a puncture. I thought we had another teammate in there, but in hindsight I should have waited for him. I couldn’t hear much because of all the shouting and crashing. It was chaotic,” van Garderen said after the stage.
The American holds the white jersey for the best-placed young rider. There was no motivation for him to keep that jersey by staying ahead of Evans, Ochowicz said.
BMC director John Lelangue said he thanked Sky director Sean Yates following the race. He also called the act of putting tacks in the road “criminal.”
“The Tour de France normally is a big party, a big moment where all the fans can come. It’s free. Everyone is welcome. It’s pretty accessible, and those people, I don’t know the word I have to use for this,” he said.
“It’s criminal. It’s a lot of risk already for the riders in the downhill … Sky was really honest, and they stopped in the front … I went to Sean Yates at the end of the race to say that I really appreciated it.”
Perhaps it was race director Jean-Francois Pescheux who said it best: “There are always some idiots out there. What else can I say?”
—Agence France Press contributed to this report.