The complex unwritten rules of the peloton had to be consulted on the hoof during the descent of the Mur de Péguère on stage 14 of the Tour de France, as Cadel Evans (BMC) suffered a series of punctures after tacks were strewn across the road ahead of the yellow jersey group's passage. As the defending champion stood at the roadside waiting for a replacement wheel, the bunch was caught in two minds as to whether to wait for him or to continue on its course.
To the apparent agreement of the other overall contenders, race leader Bradley Wiggins's Sky team had slowed the pace at the beginning of the descent on learning of Evans' misfortune, but an attack from Pierre Rolland (Europcar) saw the détente in the peloton quickly dissolve.
First the Lotto Belisol team of Jurgen Van Den Broeck (5th at 4:48) and then the Liquigas-Cannondale squad of Vincenzo Nibali (3rd at 2:23) gave fierce chase to Rolland, who they considered a threat given that he started the day in 9th place, 8:31 off the pace. All of this, while Evans – 4th at 3:19 – was engaged in his own desperate pursuit of the rear end of the peloton, a task complicated by the three punctures he suffered on the way down.
When the impetuous Rolland was eventually brought to heel, however, both Lotto and Liquigas reined in their efforts, and Evans was eventually able to latch back on to the 80-strong main peloton as it approached the finish in Foix. After all the drama of the descent, the situation among the favourites remained unchanged at the day's end.
On crossing the line, Vincenzo Nibali was keen to stress that his team had acted only to shut down Rolland rather than to distance Evans, although he acknowledged that there was confusion in the peloton as the long drop into Foix began.
"We spoke when Rolland attacked and we waited for a couple of minutes, maybe more, but then we saw that he was going to gain a couple of minutes in front," Nibali said as he rolled towards his team bus. "Sky wasn't taking any decision so it was a bit difficult to wait any more.
The first team to place its cards on the table was Van Den Broeck's Lotto Belisol team, although Liquigas-Cannondale would also contribute forcefully to the pursuit of Rolland. "We spoke at the start because we didn't know what to do," Nibali reiterated. "The descent was very long and when Lotto started pulling, we went to the front soon afterwards.
"Our objective was to go and bring Rolland back because he could be a dangerous rider in the coming stages and we didn't want to give him too much leeway, but we moved away from the front as soon as we had caught him."
After the finish, Tour director Christian Prudhomme confirmed that vandals had thrown tacks across the road, and while the television pictures focused on Evans, it emerged that up to 30 riders suffered punctures as a result.
"Yes, there were punctures at the head of the peloton, a lot of riders had problems," Nibali explained. "In front, not everybody was in agreement that we should wait and it went like that. It's not that we spoke about waiting for Evans, we just spoke about waiting for the guys behind in general. But the pace on the climb had been quite high and everybody interprets the race as he wishes."