Laurent Rebours/Associated Press
Laurent Rebours/Associated Press
PORRENTRUY, Switzerland – Bradley Wiggins kept the yellow jersey at the Tour de France. Keeping his cool was another matter.
The former Olympic champion with ambitions to be Britain’s first Tour winner unleashed a profanity-laced tirade after Sunday’s eighth stage in which the race entered Switzerland.
Thibaut Pinot, at 22 the youngest competitor, was the day’s winner and gave France its first stage victory this year. Wiggins quashed a late attack by defending champion Cadel Evans to hold the lead.
Wiggins’ Team Sky has controlled the Tour in a style reminiscent of Lance Armstrong’s former U.S. Postal team. The Briton, however, lost his composure when asked by a reporter to comment on comparisons between the teams and “cynics who believe that you have to be doped up to win the Tour.”
Wiggins, angered by the chatter on social media, let loose with an expletive-filled outburst.
“I cannot be dealing with people like that. It justifies their own bone-idleness because they can’t ever imagine applying themselves to anything in their lives,” he said. “And it’s easy for them to sit under a pseudonym on Twitter and write that.”
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency last month filed charges against Armstrong, accusing the seven-time Tour champion of using performance-enhancing drugs. Armstrong denies any wrongdoing.
The International Cycling Union has worked to rid drugs cheats from the sport and has drawn some praise from the World Anti-Doping Agency. The Tour is without two-time champion Alberto Contador this year while he serves a doping ban linked to the race in 2010.
Wiggins is looking to move from three-time Olympic track gold-medalist to a rising star of the Tour de France roads. His fourth-place Tour finish in 2009 put to rest many questions about his climbing skill.
Speaking to French television, Wiggins said his ability to get up hard mountain climbs came from training, diet and lifestyle. “I drink nothing now ... before, in 2004, I was almost an alcoholic after the Olympics.”
He’s come a long way since, and he has showed during the last two days he’s able to keep up with strong climbers like Evans, Vincenzo Nibali of Italy and Belgium’s Jurgen Van Den Broeck.
Sunday’s ride into the Jura range next to the Swiss Alps, known as the birthplace of the Swiss army knife, offered double drama: a hard last climb that splintered the pack, and a tense chase of Pinot to the finish.
Pinot burst from the pack and overtook a breakaway rider during a steep, final climb to win the 98-mile stage from Belfort in eastern France to the Swiss town of Porrentruy.
“I will remember this day my entire life,” Pinot said as teammates embraced him. “I can’t yet get my mind around it.”
Evans of Australia was second, 26 seconds behind, but didn’t gain any time on Wiggins, who was fourth in a small group that included most of the remaining pre-race favorites.
“It was good fun coming in at the end there,” Wiggins said. “It was a bit like being in a junior race again. Everyone attacking in ones and twos. It’s good. It’s what it’s all about.”
Still, he acknowledged he was glad he and his British squad were able to get through it, one more obstacle out of the way on the road to the finish in Paris on July 22.
“Another tough day ticked off,” he said.
Wiggins leads Evans by 10 seconds. Nibali is third, 16 seconds behind the leader.
Sunday’s race was marred by yet another crash, bringing a high-profile withdrawal. Defending Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez pulled out 35 miles into the stage. He broke his right hand and injured his left shoulder and could miss the London Games.
Twenty riders have dropped out so far from the 99th Tour. Of those, at least 13 gave up the three-week race following a mass pileup during Stage 6.
Today’s stage returns to favorable territory for riders like Wiggins and Evans: a time-trial. Riders will set off one by one in the 26-mile race against the clock from Arc-en-Senans to Besancon.
Wiggins, ever the family man, showed France-2 TV tattooed mementoes of his children on the base of his thumbs. That’s right where he can see them when he rides with his hands on the handlebars in a time trial like the one today.
Evans called the upcoming ninth stage “the test of truth.”
“It’s each with their own two legs. ... Opportunities don’t come around that often, so when they come you have to grab them by the neck,” he said. “(Today) might turn everything around, so we’ll see ...”
AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin and Associated Press writer Greg Keller contributed to this report.
Christophe Ena/Associated Press