Luis Leon Sanchez of Rabobank attacked from the break today to win Stage 14 of the Tour de France in Foix, his fourth stage victory in the race. Also in the break were Peter Sagan of Liquigas-Cannondale, who finished second, 45 seconds down on the winner, to consolidate his grip on the green jersey. Behind, sabotage struck the Tour as a number of riders including maillot jaune Bradley Wiggins suffered punctures due to tacks being spread across the road on the descent from the Mur de Péguère, crested some 38.5 kilometres out.
Fortunately, the main group had slowed right down after defending champion Cadel Evans of BMC Racing had found himself stranded without assistance at the top of the climb after puncturing, otherwise the consequences could have been much worse - Astana's Robert Kiserloviski did however crash, suffering a suspected broken collarbone.
The only rider to attack from the peloton on that descent was Europcar's Pierre Rolland, although he subsequently eased off the pace, apparently due to team orders. With the racing effectively neutralised in the bunch, there was no change at the top of the overall standings as the group, including Evans, rolled across the line some 18 minutes after the winner.
Sagan had attacked from the peloton on the descent from the summit of the day’s first climb, the Category 3 Col du Portel, crested after just 30 kilometres of the 191 kilometre stage from Limoux, never a stage town until last year but now hosting its second successive edition of the race.
Amael Moinard of BMC racing and AG2R’s Biel Kadri were the first riders to join the Slovak, and a group of eight riders, including Sanchez, FDJ BigMat’s Anthony Roux, Gorka Izagirre of Euskaltel-Euskadi and another BMC rider, Philippe Gilbert also bridged across, the group building a lead of well over ten minutes as it approached the day’s intermediate sprint.
Unsurprisingly, it was Sagan who took maximum points on the line at Tarascon-sur-Ariège, though he didn’t get them entirely unopposed, Izagirre giving a show of going for them for the benefit of the cameras. The Liquigas-Cannondale rider’s second place to Sanchez at the end of the stage meaning he now has an almost unassailable lead of 97 points over André Greipel and a near-certainty to clinch the green jersey in his debut Tour de France.
For a while, today, it looked as though the 22-year-old might be heading for his fourth stage win in this year’s race. The break had been together as it headed up the first of the two Category 1 climbs on the day’s route, the Port de Lers, but on the tougher climb of the Mur de Péguère, with the last 3 kilometres including ramps of up to 18 per cent, it splintered as Sanchez went on the attack.
The Spaniard was joined by Izagirre, Gilbert and Casar, and the quartet appeared to have dropped Sagan as they headed towards the summit. The Liquigas Cannondale man dug in deep, however, and rode back across to them, Sanchez looking across incredulously as the younger rider drew level.
Sanchez’s eventual victory would owe much to his greater experience, as Sagan would acknowledge afterwards, the Rabobank rider catching him unawares as he let his guard drop while taking in some food ahead of the finale, and jumping off to ride solo to victory. It’s likely to be the first and last time anyone ever takes advantage of Sagan in that way.
The breakaway riders came down of the Mur de Péguère without incident, but it was a different story behind them in the main group, with 30 of the 50 riders reported to have punctured. First to do so was Evans, the Australian standing forlornly by the road as he waited for support, any lingering hopes of retaining his title seemingly evaporating until Team Sky, led by Wiggins, slowed the pace down at the front in a gesture applauded by race organisers ASO.
It’s just as well that they did – while the descent was not the most technical, conditions were wet, and the potential consequences of the peloton hurtling down that ascent full gas with tacks strewn across the road don’t bear thinking about. Meanwhile Evans, who went on to puncture again, may not have lost time today but is bound to have words with team mate Tejay Van Garderen, who is leading the best young rider’s classification, but admitted having ridden past his team leader without offeriing assistance.
On the way up that final climb, Richie Porte had ridden to the front of the bunch to help control the pace, and the tempo being set as well as the narrowness of the road and difficulty of the ascent, making its debut in the Tour, meant that none of Wiggins’ rivals was able to attack, although third placed Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas-Cannondale must surely have been planning something on the descent, given his rueful smile as he crossed the line at the end of the stage.
Earlier, there had been the unusual sight of world champion Mark Cavendish, yesterday awarded the accolade of the greatest sprinter the Tour de France has ever seen by French newspaper L’Equipe, leading the peloton up a Category 1 climb in the Pyrenees and back down the other side, the man who has put his own defence of the green jersey on hold doing his bit today to support Wiggins’ ambitions to keep the maillot jaune all the way to Paris.
Jean-Francois Pescheux, competitions director at Tour de France organiser ASO:
"We don't know who it was. No-one saw anything.
"We've found some of the tacks. They're the kind of tacks you use in mattresses or carpets. They were obviously thrown by a spectator.
"There were around 50 riders together in the front peloton at the top and about 30 of them ended up with punctures. Some of them had three or four nails in their tyres.
"We couldn't neutralise it straight away because we didn't know what had happened. Fortunately Team Sky neutralised the race."
Maillot jaune Bradley Wiggins, Team Sky:
"No one wants to see something like that have an impact on the race. As a group the thing to do was to wait, the stage win was over. The climb was over. There was nothing left to contest really.
"Everybody sees those situations differently but personally I wouldn't want to benefit from something like that. I thought the best thing to do is to wait.
"If you can't gain times on the climbs, then you don't do it when someone's punctured - not even when it's an ordinary puncture. So when it was something like what happened today, something external affecting the race, then it's even more so.
"There were so many punctures at once that it was obvious that something had happened.
"The climb was so narrow that the team cars were a long way back and waiting seemed the honourable thing to do."
Stage winner Luis Leon Sanchez of Rabobank:
“Since the start of the Tour I have never given up on the idea of being in breakaways in the hope of winning stage. I was injured during the first week, but I persisted. Not everything worked out in our favour at first but I knew that this stage was made for me; I really wanted to do something today.
“Of course, when I saw that Sagan and Gilbert were also in the break, I thought it would be almost impossible to beat them, and my only option was to attack from a long way out. This is why we accelerated with my team-mate [Kruiswijk] at the top of the Mur de Péguère, and then I attacked solo near the finish.
“I intend to keep trying to go in the breakaways and, why not, pick up another stage win. I also think about the Olympics, because I'm doing better and better right now and my wrist does not hurt anymore. I'd like to go to do something.
“I always have had trouble with very high mountains, and that is why it complicates things to aim for overall victory in a Grand Tour. I know that since Indurain, the Spanish mentality is to be interested mainly in three-week races. But I do not have the legs for this kind of feat, even though I already finished in the top 10. After all, I've won four stages on the Tour de France, and I intend to keep adding more.”
Tejay Van Garderen, BMC Racing, leader of the best young rider’s classification:
“I heard Cadel had a puncture but I wasn't quite sure what the situation was. I thought we had another team-mate in there but in hindsight I should have waited for him. It was loud and chaotic and could kind of gather than he had a puncture but I wasn't sure...
“Like I said, I thought we had more team-mates in there and I didn't hear much over the radio. There was just shouting and it was kind of chaotic. It was sort of like someone threw some tacks on the road or something but I'm not sure exactly.”
Tour de France Stage 14 result 1 SANCHEZ Luis-Leon RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM 04h 50' 29'' 2 SAGAN Peter LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 00' 47'' 3 CASAR Sandy FDJ-BIGMAT 4 GILBERT Philippe BMC RACING TEAM 5 IZAGUIRRE Gorka EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI 6 PAULINHO Sergio TEAM SAXO BANK-TINKOFF BANK + 02' 51'' 7 MINARD Sébastien AG2R LA MONDIALE 8 VELITS Martin OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP + 03' 49'' 9 VORGANOV Eduard KATUSHA TEAM + 04' 51'' 10 KRUIJSWIJK Steven RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM + 04' 53'' 11 GAUTIER Cyril TEAM EUROPCAR 12 MATE Luis Angel COFIDIS LE CREDIT EN LIGNE + 18' 15'' 13 SIMON Julien SAUR-SOJASUN 14 CHEREL Mikael AG2R LA MONDIALE 15 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 16 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM 17 NIBALI Vincenzo LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE 18 KOREN Kristijan LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE 19 FEILLU Brice SAUR-SOJASUN 20 FROOME Christopher SKY PROCYCLING Last man home on Stage 14 162 KERN Christophe TEAM EUROPCAR 05h 22' 22'' General Classification after Stage 14 1 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 64h 41' 16'' 2 FROOME Christopher SKY PROCYCLING + 02' 05'' 3 NIBALI Vincenzo LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 02' 23'' 4 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM + 03' 19'' 5 VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM + 04' 48'' 6 ZUBELDIA Haimar RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 06' 15'' 7 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM + 06' 57'' 8 BRAJKOVIC Janez ASTANA PRO TEAM + 07' 30'' 9 ROLLAND Pierre TEAM EUROPCAR + 08' 31'' 10 PINOT Thibaut FDJ-BIGMAT + 08' 51' Points Classification after Stage 14 1 SAGAN Peter LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE 333 pts 2 GREIPEL André LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM 236 pts 3 GOSS Matthew Harley ORICA GREENEDGE 203 pts 4 CAVENDISH Mark SKY PROCYCLING 129 pts 5 BOASSON HAGEN Edvald SKY PROCYCLING 125 pts Mountains Classification after Stage 14 1 KESSIAKOFF Fredrik ASTANA PRO TEAM 69 pts 2 ROLLAND Pierre TEAM EUROPCAR 55 pts 3 SORENSEN Chris Anker TEAM SAXO BANK-TINKOFF BANK 39 pts 4 VOECKLER Thomas TEAM EUROPCAR 33 pts 5 SCARPONI Michele LAMPRE - ISD 33 pts Best Young Rider's Classification after Stage 14 1 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM 64h 48' 13'' 2 PINOT Thibaut FDJ-BIGMAT + 01' 54'' 3 SAGAN Peter LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 40' 35'' 4 KRUIJSWIJK Steven RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM + 41' 37'' 5 TAARAMAE Rein COFIDIS LE CREDIT EN LIGNE + 52' 02''
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.