An appalling act of sabotage from an unidentified person in the crowd lining the road at the Tour de France triggered an extraordinary display of sportsmanship from some of the leaders of the race.
Carpet tacks were strewn across the road at the summit of the final climb in Sunday's stage, causing defending champion Cadel Evans and more than 30 other riders in the peloton to suffer tire punctures. Evans, who entered the day in fourth place overall, surely would have lost several minutes to his chief adversaries had they not decided to slow their pace over the final 25 miles of the race to allow him to catch up.
"When 15 or 16 riders puncture at once, it becomes very apparent that something is wrong," overall race leader Bradley Wiggins told news.com.au. "The race was over and I could see a lot of people had punctured, it was the right thing to do."
A flat tire typically isn't all that damaging for riders in the tour because their team cars carry spare wheels and even backup bikes, but Evans' rear-wheel puncture could not have come at a worse time. Since Evans was at the front of a group of riders that stretched well down the mountain, the BMC Racing team car was too far behind him to offer immediate assistance.
With the yellow jersey of Wiggins disappearing out of sight, Evans pulled off the road and frantically shouted to teammate Tejay van Garderen to stop and switch tires with him. Van Garderen told NBC Sports Network he made a split-second decision to ignore his teammate's plea because he thought BMC Racing had another rider right there.
Unfortunately for Evans, the next BMC rider also had a flat and they had to stand helplessly by the side of the road waiting for the team car for about 90 seconds while the rest of the field zipped past. Soon afterward, Evans suffered another flat tire presumably from the carpet tacks, putting him as much as two minutes behind the group that included Wiggins and the other overall leaders of the race.
Wiggins could have used Evans' misfortune as an opportunity to all but eliminate one of his chief adversaries in this year's Tour, but instead he and the rest of Team Sky eased their tempo and encouraged the rest of the peloton to follow suit. The rest of the leaders did the same with the exception of eighth-place Pierre Rolland, who initially attacked but later apologized and allowed the peloton to catch him once he realized what happened.
As a result of the sportsmanship of Wiggins and the other leaders, Evans remains in the same position he was entering the day — fourth overall and 3:19 out of first place. Wiggins remains the favorite to wear yellow down the Champs-Élysées next weekend, but at least Evans now still has hope of challenging him in the Pyrenees mountains this week.
"Hats off to Sky and Wiggins," Evans' BMC Racing teammate George Hincapie said on NBC Sports Network's telecast after the race. "They weren't aggressive at all. They knew we were having difficulties and they didn't take advantage of the situation. It's good to know there's still some kind of sportsmanship out there."
Waiting for Evans might have been a more difficult decision for Wiggins and the other leaders had any of the riders in the breakaway ahead of the peloton been higher in the overall standings. Instead, they were content to take it easy and allow Spain's Luis-Leon Sanchez to win the stage more than 15 minutes ahead of the peloton.
Wiggins, who himself had to change his bike on the descent as a result of an apparent flat tire, told BBC Sport he thought allowing Evans to catch up was "the honorable thing."
"Nobody wants to benefit from someone else's misfortune," he said.
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