Carpet-tack sabotage caused drama on stage 14, with Cadel Evans suffering multiple punctures on the slopes of the Mur du Peguere, which proved to afford even more drama than its already fearsome reputation foretold. Race leader Bradley Wiggins showed that he wore the maillot mantle with reverence, neutralising the bunch in respect for his rival. Luis Leon Sanchez of Rabobank won the stage, soloing to victory following an escape from an eleven man break on the final climb, but the real story took place back in the bunch.
Stage 14 from Limoux to Foix saw the race enter the mountains again for the first of three stages in the Pyrenees, with the 2nd category climb of the Col de Portel early on, followed by two 1st category climbs later in the stage. The latter climb of the Mur de Perguere featured the steepest ramps of the Tour so far, averaging 7.9% over its 9.3km length, with narrow, steep ramps of up to 1 in 5.
Race leader Bradley Wiggins was making the headlines before he turned a pedal, wearing the yellow jersey for a seventh day, a first for a British rider, beating Chris Boardman’s record of six days.
It was action from the gun, with a flurry of attacks in the first sector of the stage before the opening 2nd category climb of the Col de Portel caused the peloton to split, only to regroup later, with the ever combative Thomas Voekler (EUC) first over the top. Following the descent, Liquigas’ Peter Sagan went on the attack and was joined by two other riders, Paulinho (STB) and Kruiswijk (RAB).
A counter attack, led by FDJ’s Sandy Casar, quickly swelled to a group of eight, who made contact with the Sagan group to form a group of 11 riders; Eduard Vorganov (KAT), Sandy Casar 141 (FDJ), Steven Kruijswijk (RAB), Peter Sagan (LIQ), Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Cyril Gautier (EUC), Insausti Izaguirre (EUS), Sergio Paulinho (STB), Luis-Leon Sanchez (RAB), Sébastien Minard (ALM) and Martin Velits (OPQ).
The eleven riders were allowed to open out a huge advantage, with no GC contenders in play, the gap reaching 14 minutes with 75km to go. They stayed away for the intermediate sprint, with Peter Sagan further cementing his commanding lead in the points competition.
So as the race reached the foothills of the 1517m Port de Ler, the break had almost 15 minutes on the main field and the focus turned to the GC battle in the main field. Team Sky’s Bernard Eisel and Christian Knees led the peloton up the lower slopes, with Cavendish and Wiggins in tow; World Champion Cavendish playing domestique, fetching arm warmers for the rest of the team on the damp, drizzly ascent.
The lead group of eleven crested the Port de Ler still over 14 minutes ahead of the peloton and as they did Europcar’s Cyril Gautier dropped his chain and had to swap bikes and chase back on the slippery descent to Auzat which led straight onto the climb of the Mur de Peguere. The peloton gingerly descended the slippery Port de Ler, with Cavendish continuing an impressive day’s work at the front of the field.
The leaders began the climb of the Mur and at 4km from the summit, Rabobank’s Steven Kruijswijk and Luis Leon Sanchez attacked, attempting to distance dangermen Sagan and Gilbert. Kruijswijk then dropped away as Gilbert, Casar and Izaguirre joined Sanchez at the head of the race on the steep section of the Peguere. Sagan however didn’t give up and buried himself to stay in touch with the four leaders.
Back in the bunch 16 minutes behind, Cavendish still led the pack flanked by his Team Sky comrades, surprising everyone with his climbing abilities, until Lotto moved to the front ahead of the steepest section of the climb.
At the head of the field Casar attacked a kilometre from the top, in a last ditch attempt to dislodge Sagan. Casar crested the hill first but it was too little too late; Sagan was back with Sanchez, Gilbert and co.
As Casar collected maximum points at the summit and led down the descent, Cadel Evans hit the front of the peloton and forced the pace on the steep section of the Peguere. Back in fifth wheel, Wiggins, with Froome in tow, did not panic, Sky quickly moving Richie Porte to the front to control the pace, joined by Chris Froome.
As Sky took control in the bunch, Sagan and Izaguirre nullified the threat of Casar, making contact on the fast descent, Sagan using his descending skills and threatening to ditch Casar and Izaguirre.
Wiggins hit the front of the group at the top of the final climb and almost simulatenously, Evans pulled to the side of the road with flat rear tyre, and waited seemingly forever for a new wheel, eventually rejoining with George Hincapie to help with the chase back onto the group. Evan’s BMC teammate Steve Cummings pulled over, it seemed, to offer his wheel, though it transpired that the British rider too had suffered a puncture at the same time.
Sportingly, the Team Sky-led bunch did not capitalise on Evans’ misfortune, who needed a second rear wheel before he could continue his chase. Meanwhile, Pierre Roland, tenth on GC, foreswore cycling etiquette and went on the attack, provoking some Gallic gestures from the Team Sky riders on the front. Then misfortune struck for Wiggins, also requiring a bike change due to a mechanical, with Richie Porte waiting to assist his team leader back into the bunch. In the meantime, Pierre Roland’s audacious attack had yielded a 1 minute 40 second lead.
More drama quickly followed; Evan’s took yet another new wheel, a front this time, losing over a minute, forcing his entire team to drop back and bridge the gap to the Wiggins group. With GC drama going on behind, it was easy to overlook the head of the race, as Luis Leon Sanchez attacked and went clear of the Sagan group, in a last ditch attempt to shake off the demon sprinter from Slovakia.
With 4km to go, Sanchez had over 30 seconds on his chasers, an advantage he would maintain to take a richly deserved victory in Foix. Behind, Peter Sagan easily won the sprint for second place.
Behind, BMC and Liquigas continued to chase down the Wiggins group, as French race radio claimed that carpet tacks scattered across the road on the climb had caused calamity in the bunch. The Sky-neutralised bunch reformed, with Roland ruefully capitulating and rejoining the pack. Ahead, the remainder of the original breakaway crossed the line, followed by the main field, over 18 minutes behind the stage winner.
Amazingly, following the dramas of the day, the general classification situation remained unchanged, with Wiggins still 2 minutes and 5 seconds ahead of teammate Chris Froome.
Following the stage Bradley Wiggins spoke to ITV and explained his and his team’s decision to neutralise the race, a clear signal that holding the yellow jersey is about etiquette as much as ability:
“I just thought it was the honourable thing to do really because no one wants to benefit from someone else’s misfortune. One or two guys were still adamant on racing and made their point even though Cadel was behind. At the end of the day, when the shoe’s on the other foot, no one wants to be in that position, so I thought it was the best thing to do. “
Wiggins then went on to explain the problems he was having on the Mur de Pegeure:
“Yeah, I was just having a few problems with the bike today and I was thinking at that point I would try to get a bike change at the top of the hill. In the end I decided to do it on the descent.”
Later on, speaking the Press Association, Wiggins showed his disgust and disappointment at the actions of the stage saboteurs:
"What can you do? It's something we can't control. 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."
Wiggins continued, "If that happened in a football stadium, or wherever, you'd be arrested, CCTV. But we're out there, quite vulnerable at times, very close to the public on climbs. We're just the riders at the end of the day and we're there to be shot at, literally. It's quite sad and hopefully that's not going to continue.”
1 Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team 4:50:29
2 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:47
3 Sandy Casar (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat
4 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team
5 Gorka Izaguirre Insausti (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi
6 Sergio Miguel Moreira Paulinho (Por) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank 0:02:51
7 Sébastien Minard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
8 Martin Velits (Svk) Omega Pharma-Quickstep 0:03:49
9 Eduard Vorganov (Rus) Katusha Team 0:04:51
10 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:04:53
15 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling
20 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling
85 Stephen Cummings (GBr) BMC Racing Team 0:26:01
143 David Millar (GBr) Garmin – Sharp
148 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky Procycling
General Classification after Stage 14
1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 64:41:16
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:02:05
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:02:23
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:03:19
5 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team 0:04:48
6 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) RadioShack-Nissan 0:06:15
7 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:06:57
8 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana Pro Team 0:07:30
9 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar 0:08:31
10 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 0:08:51
86 David Millar (GBr) Garmin – Sharp
91 Stephen Cummings (GBr) BMC Racing Team 1:46:57
149 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky Procycling 2:24:43
1 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale 333 pts
2 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol Team 236
3 Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team 203
4 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky Procycling 129
5 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling 125
6 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 105
7 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 100
8 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 84
9 Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team 84
10 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 77
1 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Astana Pro Team 69 pts
2 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar 55
3 Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank 39
4 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar 33
5 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre - ISD 33
6 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 32
7 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 32
8 Peter Velits (Svk) Omega Pharma-Quickstep 29
9 Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team 21
10 Sandy Casar (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 20 #
Young rider classification
1 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 64:48:13
2 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 0:01:54
3 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:40:35
4 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:41:37
5 Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 0:52:02
6 Gorka Izaguirre Insausti (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:57:34
7 Rafael Valls Ferri (Spa) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:59:43
8 Cyril Gautier (Fra) Team Europcar 1:04:55
9 Davide Malacarne (Ita) Team Europcar 1:05:33
10 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling 1:06:36