Fireworks come early to Tour de France
ANNONAY, France (AP) -- Fireworks came early to the Tour de France this year.
Rather than wait for the traditional Bastille Day July 14th national holiday, when much of France pauses from picnics and barbeques to cheer on a French rider for the day's stage win, the fireworks both figurative and literal have been launched two days running on cycling's showcase event.
The first sparks flew on Thursday, in a testy exchange via Twitter between the companions of Sky teammates Bradley Wiggins and Christopher Froome over a perceived slight late in the day's stage.
Yellow jersey holder Wiggins was left stuck to the road by his Kenyan-born teammate's late acceleration high on the road to La Toussuire ski resort. Froome was ordered to halt his attack and wait for his leader to catch up. Wiggins' wife took to social media to question Froome's loyalty to the team, which prompted Froome's girlfriend to state that he was being taken advantage of.
Friday's fireworks were of the literal kind. Wiggins was hit on the arm and received minor burns by a flare being waved by a spectator running alongside the peloton.
Racing over the third category Cote d'Ardoix some 12 miles from the finish of the 140-mile long stage from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to Annonay Davezieux,
"I got hit the arm with a flare, it burnt my arm a bit," Wiggins said after the race.
"It was some nutter running up the hill and it shows you freak things like that can happen in the Tour. I'm fine though," Wiggins said.
Tour riders are very exposed as they race close to thousands of spectators massed along the Tour's route. Years ago, Eddy Merckx was punched by a fan of a rival racer.
In 2003, Lance Armstrong fell in the climb to Luz-Ardiden after his handlebars were caught in a bag held by a spectator on the side of the road.
When spectators get out of line, riders may take justice into their own hands, Wiggins said.
"I'm sure there's a few guys nursing injuries because there were quite a few bottles being thrown in their direction from the peloton," Wiggins said.
Wiggins' Sky teammates Froome and Mick Rogers sported yellow flare traces on their faces and arms at the finish but weren't injured.
French riders, who lit up the Tour this week with back-to-back stage wins by Thomas Voeckler and Pierre Rolland, were more like damp squibs on Friday's stage. Jean-Christophe Peraud and Cyril Gautier both made it into a tough five-man breakaway but failed to make it three in a row for French riders going into the holiday as Briton David Millar sprinted ahead for the win.
Peraud was second in the same time, and Egoi Martinez of Spain was third, 5 seconds back.
Wiggins still leads the overall classification, with Froome in second, by 2:05. Vincenzo Nibali of Italy is third, 2:23 back. Defending champion Cadel Evans is fourth, 3:19 behind. Jurgen Van Den Broeck of Belgium is fifth, 4:48 off the pace.
French riders will surely try to light another pyrotechnic display Saturday as the race heads toward the Mediterranean.
The 135-mile jaunt takes the remaining 164 riders from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to the coastal resort of Le Cap d'Agde, known for its nudist colony.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)