It was a relatively straightforward day for the peloton during stage 14 of the Tour de France but the final decent turned into chaos when a number of riders suffered multiple punctures. Cadel Evans (BMC) was struck by a series of flats within a short period of time and, at least from a viewer’s perspective, appeared to have the worst luck of everyone. Even when his first puncture occurred the team car was not nearby and when a teammate, Steven Cummings finally appeared, he was of little assistance with a double puncture to both front and rear tyres.
Punctures and mechanicals are part of racing but when someone like Evans - last year’s Tour winner and still a contender for this year’s race - punctures not once but three times, it’s customary to wait for him to join. It’s one of the ‘gentleman’ sides to the sport which isn’t enforced by any particular person but out of respect, it is quite often implied by one of the patrons of the peloton. In this particular case it was race leader Bradley Wiggins (Sky) summoned the bunch to ease the pace on the long decent of the Mur de Péguére.
Not everyone was aware of this temporary truce and Pierre Rolland (Europcar) attacked and rapidly gained over a minute gap on the bunch. Much to the annoyance of Wiggins and his team, they let him continue whilst waiting for the fourth-place rider, currently 3:19 behind Wiggins.
After a short delay and confusion over the appropriate action following Rolland’s attack, Liquigas-Cannondale and Lotto-Belisol riders came to the front and began to lift the pace. Rolland’s ninth spot in the general classification was a concern for both teams who have Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Jurgen van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) in third and fifth respectively. They eventually caught the Frenchman and dully reprimanded his actions. However, Roland insists he had little knowledge of what was happening behind - except that his gap was growing.
"I wanted to attack on the Mur de Péguére to take some time on the GC. People have reproached me for having attacked on the descent but I didn't know about the mechanical problems behind me because my earpiece was not working. I am not the type of rider who likes to benefit from other people's misfortunes to gain places in the GC," he said on his team site.
Fränk Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) was one of the riders to raise his concerns with Rolland on his return to the main bunch. Schleck's frustration was justified as Andreas Klöden, Chris Horner and Maxime Monfort were chasing back to the field after punctures when Rolland attacked. He spoke about the situation at the end of the stage.
"When I returned to the squad, Fränk Schleck asked me why I had escaped. I did not understand anything at first and then I realised there were many riders with punctures. I am respectful of the code and internal rules of the pack. If someone attacks after a puncture or a fall, I would be the first to complain. If I had been aware of something, I wouldn’t have attacked. Those who know me understand I wouldn’t ask in that way. Everyone saw that I acted in good faith," Rolland told biciciclismo.