Tour de France organizers lodged a formal complaint with police Sunday as the peloton hit back at nail-throwing spectators who threatened to cause mayhem at the end of the hilly 14th stage.
Dozens of riders fell victim to the saboteurs who threw small nails on the ground near the top of the Mur de Peguere climb, 38 kilometers from the finish and caused several leading riders to puncture.
It led to a confusing finish, with defending race champion Cadel Evans among the first victims. He initially lost over two minutes waiting for a spare wheel.
The Australian, who suffered three punctures in total in the finale, managed to latch back on to the peloton thanks in part to the work of his BMC team but also down to the sporting behavior of the peloton.
Once the extent of the incident became apparent, the Sky team of yellow jersey holder Bradley Wiggins helped restore order by waiting for those delayed riders affected by the sabotage.
Wiggins himself had to change bike due to a puncture.
“Whether it was aimed at someone or something I don’t know. It’s sad, but those are the types of things we have to put up with as cyclists,” said the Briton, who leads Sky teammate Chris Froome by 2 minutes and 5 seconds going into Sunday’s 15th stage.
A statement by race organizers ASO (Amaury Sports Organisation) said “management of the race has decided to lodge a formal complaint with police.”
It added: “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.”
It is not the first time the peloton or specific riders have been targeted by one or several spectators at the side of the road.
Belgian cycling legend Eddy Merckx was once punched in the stomach by a angry spectator in the 1975 Tour de France. Several years ago some riders in the peloton fell victim to teenagers shooting air rifles. New Zealander Julian Dean was one of the riders hit with pellets.
Evans admitted Sunday he now rarely races in Spain, after effectively losing the Tour of Spain title when he punctured on suspect material thrown on to the road.
“For that reason I don’t race in Spain very often. It’s cost me a Vuelta [Tour of Spain], it’s cost me other races,” said the Australian.
Wiggins, meanwhile, said cyclists offering the fans a free spectacle on the road should not be taken for granted.
“I think people take that for granted, just how close they can get to us,” he added.
“If that happened in a football stadium you’d be arrested, [thanks to] CCTV, but we’re out there and we’re quite vulnerable at times, very close to the public.
“We’re just the riders at the end of the day, and we’re there to be shot at, literally. So it’s quite sad and hopefully that’s not going to continue.”