Tour de France - No attacks but lots of tacks
Blazin' Saddles looks back on a controversial day at the Tour de France with tacks placed on the course to cause chaos.
It took vandals and a few handfuls of small nails to inject a bit of excitement into stage 14 of the Tour de France which culminated in a go-slow truce that seemed spicier than when the race was actually in full swing.
Tour director Jean-Francois Pescheux confirmed that scattered carpet tacks were to blame for some 30-odd punctures on the Mur de Peguere climb — as well as the broken collarbone of Astana's Robert Kiselovski.
Former Aussie sprint sensation Robbie McEwen called the people responsible "w***ers" — and in doing so gave yellow jersey Bradley Wiggins a proper example of when it's okay to call someone a "w***er". After a chaotic day reporting on the race, Saddles runs through five talking points.
Bradley 'Le Gentleman'
One rider who emerged smelling of roses what that man Wiggins, the rider who reportedly initiated the go-slow after Cadel Evans was held up by three punctures in quick succession.
After the stage, Pescheux praised team sky for their fair play while Evans (albeit indirectly) acknowledged his rival's "sporting" gesture. Wiggins himself said: "It didn't seem the honourable thing to do really, to benefit from other people's misfortune at part of a race which was over."
All in all, it was a huge turn around for a man who — judging by some of the unfathomable viciousness on outlets like Twitter — had been portrayed as the peloton's Mr Nasty, an egotistical bore bent on shackling the hopes of his cherubic, more talented yet over-exploited team-mate.
As usual, you could rely on Wiggo to throw in a decent quote, and the race leader duly obliged with his view that the offenders "should be round up and sent to a football match or something".
Rolland the baddie
Of course, where there is good there is always bad (just ask Chris Froome) — and where Wiggins was seen as the hero of the day, France's Pierre Rolland was quickly portrayed as the pantomime villain. You see, Rolland looked to take advantage of the situation by attacking on the descent and opening up a two-minute gap over the peloton and almost four minutes on floundering Evans.
This, of course, led to sparks of outrage from armchair fans and riders alike who all hopped on the Rolland-bashing bandwagon. The French language, we were reminded, has no term for sportsmanship and hence has to use the English term in its equivalent, "le fairplay".
Wiggins insinuated that the Frenchman knew full well what he was doing ("everyone knew what had happened") while Jens Voigt, who should know better, had a dig at a certain "greendressed" rider on Twitter. Even Evans himself said on his blog that "some others [were] not so sporting … On a day like that you learn a lot about your colleagues".
No matter that Rolland's radio wasn't functioning, what with his Europcar team vehicle still stuck the other side of the climb and out of range; the rider is destined to be the butt of cruel "tacky" jibes for quite some time. He can probably even expect a heated text message from Andre Greipel.
"I didn't know about the mechanical problems behind me because my earpiece wasn't working," said an apologetic Rolland in Foix. "I am not the type of rider who likes to benefit from other people's misfortunes to gain places in the GC."
Rolland, Saddles might add, was one of the riders affected in the huge crash in stage six. Having fallen heavily on his elbow, the 25-year-old had to climb around the carnage and through a field beside the road before continuing on his way in pursuit of the speeding peloton. He lost the best part of three minutes and never complained about a "yellowdressed" man or suchlike.
BMC balloon bursts
Both Evans and his BMC team were really caught out at the top of the Mur de Peguere. Not only did Evans have to wait for about two minutes before he could get a wheel (second time lucky — for the first rider to arrive, Steve Cummings, also had a rear flat), once he did get a replacement it was left to his masseur to try and affix the thing rather ham-fistedly to his bike (perhaps his hands were too oily?). Why Evans didn't do it himself is a mystery.
Later, when Evans was changing a second or third punctured wheel, BMC's wilting under pressure plummeted new farcical depths when one of the directeur sportifs fell into a ditch when trying to run to the Australian's assistance.
Back to the initial puncture, it says quite a lot about BMC's strength in depth that Evans had to wait so long before his first team-mate actually reached the summit — especially seeing that his rival Wiggins had already passed over with at least two Sky colleagues in tow.
Actually, to be fair to BMC, Tejay van Garderen was there — but the white jersey just wasn't too interested in lending Evans his wheel, despite Evans shouting at him from all of, hmm, one metre.
"I heard Cadel had a puncture but I wasn't quite sure what the situation was," Van Garderen said. "I thought we had another team-mate in there but in hindsight I should have waited for him. It was loud and chaotic and I could kind of gather that he had a puncture but I wasn't sure."
Saddles will say it again: people get easily carried away at the situation with Wiggins and Froome at Sky (probably because they occupy the top two spots on the GC), but something very similar is happening at BMC where Van Garderen clearly sees himself as stronger than his team leader.
Dirty Sanchez & Sensational Sagan
Well, if both Rolland and Van Garderen could be seen as mini-villains for the day, then what about the guy who actually won the stage?
On Saturday's stage 13, Luis Leon Sanchez was reeled in by the peloton inside the closing 200m in part thanks to a lead-out by the yellow jersey Wiggins, towards whom the Spaniard angrily gesticulated before reserving some choice words (something rather pathetic but wholly understandable about Sky wanting to control everything and win everything in the Tour).
You can imagine Sanchez's anger, then, when having attacked on the Mur de Peguere in a bid to distance the outright stage favourite Peter Sagan, the Spaniard looked over his shoulder towards the summit and saw the green jersey grinning at him right on his wheel.
If anyone wants to leave his stamp on everything in this year's Tour, it's that man Sagan. Already with three sprint stage wins and the green jersey competition wrapped up, in insatiable tyro sought to add a mountains stage into his swelling Tour palmares — all in his debut appearance in the Grande Boucle.
Fellow escapee Sandy Casar described Sagan as "incredible", saying the four other leaders tried their best to drop the Slovak tyro on the climb "but we couldn't shake him off". Sagan duly past Sanchez before the summit and then caught Casar on the descent — and even after it came back together in the valley, the Liquigas rider, with his superior kick, was outright favourite for the win.
So Sanchez had to use a bit of cunning and attack early — even if that did mean taking advantage of the moment when Sagan was having a snack. Talk about a low blow!
Sagan was magnanimous in defeat (well, he can afford to be given the number of wins he already has). "Yes, I should have kept a better eye on him. I needed to eat and I wasn't expecting him to attack me at that point. He is experienced and I am not bitter about it," he said before adding perhaps the most modest claim of recent years: "Even if I did manage to stay with him I might not have won."
Finally, a little bit of perspective
So, Sanchez got a more-or-less deserved win that no one will really begrudge him, given Rabobank's woes (they have just four riders left in the race) and the Spaniard's own previous problems (he hurt his wrist badly in a nasty fall in stage one).
The fans were also given something to talk about after that quite bizarre incident involving tacks being thrown on the road — coming just days after the race leader was subjected to a flare attack from over-zealous fans.
But to finish, Saddles would like to ask one hypothetical question to which there is no real answer: how different would things be if it were, say, Wiggins, and not Evans, who had punctured three times on the top of the final climb?
For the past couple of weeks his rivals have been looking for every opportunity to find some weakness in the Sky armour. Saddles would venture that the charity would not have been so forthcoming from the other GC rivals (it's just a hunch).
As for a wheel change — well, even if Froome had done a Tejay and chosen not to react (which judging by his recent interview with l'Equipe he might well have done), Sky have so many strong riders in this year's Tour, a new wheel would have taken a matter of seconds.
You see, when chasing a Tour de France title it does help to take some decent climbers with you to support your man for the GC — something BMC are learning the hard way.