Tour de France 2011 winner, Australia's Cadel Evans looks at a team member fixing after he had a flat tyre due to a fan who sprayed nails on the ground in the 191 km and fourteenth stage of the 2012 Tour de France cycling race starting in Limoux and finishing in Foix, southern France, on July 15, 2012.
Credit: Fred Mons

Tour de France leader Bradley Wiggins has been dubbed "Le Gentleman" by the French media after an act of sabotage marred the first Pyrenean stage of the road race on Sunday.

Tacks thrown on to the road on a stretch before the summit of the last climb, the Mur de Pegure, punctured the tires of Australian defending champion Cadel Evans and up to 30 other riders.

According to the Guardian, Evans was forced to stop three times with punctures, leading Wiggins to call for a halt to racing on the 14th stage and slow the pace to allow Evans to return to the group.

The yellow-jersey group of 50 riders had just crested the main climb of the day, about 25 miles from the finish, and were about to begin a descent on which riders can reach almost 70 miles per hour.

Italian Vincenzo Nibali, riding alongside Wiggins, a Briton, agreed to the slowdown, despite missing one of a few remaining chances for him to close a 2 min 23 sec gap on Wiggins.

The BBC quoted race official Jean-Francois Pescheux as saying: "The nails were mainly thrown on the ground around 200 meters from the summit.  

"It was obviously done on purpose. We have the tacks but we don't know who spread them. They are imbeciles." 

The Associated Press reported that Tour officials are asking French police to investigate the incident.

Pescheux said finding the culprit would be "difficult" given the thousands of fans gathered on the roadside for the Mur de Peguere climb.

Minor incidents involving riders and spectators are not uncommon during the Tour, but usually involve stray dogs or photograph-snapping tourists wandering onto the course.

On Friday, Wiggins was hit on the arm and received minor burns by a flare being waved by a spectator.

According to the BBC, it is Tour etiquette that rivals do not take advantage of each others' misfortune.

"I thought it was the honorable thing to do," Wiggins, 32, reportedly said.

"Nobody wants to benefit from someone else's misfortune." 

He added: "There's nothing stopping more of that sort of stuff happening. It's sad. These are the type of things we have to put up with as cyclists.

"I think people take that for granted sometimes, just how close they can get to us. If that happened in a football stadium, or wherever, you'd be arrested, CCTV.

"But we're out there, quite vulnerable at times, very close to the public on climbs. We're just the riders at the end of the day and we're there to be shot at, literally." 

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