SPORTS

Britain's Wiggins retains Tour de France lead, rails about social-media critics of cycling

07/08/2012 11:43 EDT | Updated 09/07/2012 05:12 EDT
PORRENTRUY, Switzerland - Bradley Wiggins and his Tour de France team "ticked off" a successful first day in the yellow jersey. Then he got ticked off when asked about doping in cycling.

The frank-speaking former Olympic champion with ambitions to be Britain's first Tour winner launched a profanity-laced tirade over chatter on social media after Sunday's entree into Switzerland in Stage 8.

Thibaut Pinot — at 22, the youngest competitor — won the stage over seven mid-level climbs, and gave France its first victory this year. Wiggins quashed a late attack by defending champion Cadel Evans to retain the lead.

Wiggins' Team Sky has controlled the Tour in a style reminiscent of Lance Armstrong's former U.S. Postal team. The Briton 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 replied with a profanity-laced tirade, adding: "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."

"And it's easy for them to sit under a pseudonym on Twitter and write that sort of (thing)," he added, using an expletive. The 140-character social media platform has become an online voice box for many pro cyclists.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency last month filed formal charges against seven-time Tour champion Armstrong, accusing him of using performance-enhancing drugs. Armstrong denies any wrongdoing.

The International Cycling Union has worked to rid drugs cheats from the peloton and has gained some praise from the World Anti-Doping Agency. The Tour is without two-time champion Alberto Contador — the sport's top star — this year as he serves out a doping ban linked to the race in 2010.

Wiggins is looking to move from three-time Olympic track gold-medallist 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 then — and showed over the last two days that 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 nail-biting chase of Pinot to the finish.

Pinot burst from the pack and overtook a breakaway rider during a steep, final climb to win the 157.5-kilometre (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 were embracing him in the winner's circle to congratulate 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 favourites.

Wiggins enjoyed the late jockeying.

"It was good fun coming in at the end there," he 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."

But Wiggins called the stage "a tough day on the team," referring to his British squad, and said he was content to get through it: "Another tough day ticked off."

Overall, Wiggins leads Evans by 10 seconds. Nibali was third, 16 seconds behind the leader.

Sunday's race was marred by another crash that ended with a high profile withdrawal from the Tour.

Defending Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez pulled out after a crash 56 kilometres (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.

Monday's stage returns to favourable territory for riders like Wiggins and Evans: A time-trial. Riders will set off one by one in the 41.5-kilometre (26-mile) race against the clock from Arc-en-Senans to Besancon.

Family-man Wiggins showed France-2 TV tattooed mementoes of his children on the base of his thumbs — right where he can see them when he rides with his hands on the handlebars in a time-trial like the one on Monday.

Evans called the 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," the Australian said. "Tomorrow might turn everything around, so we'll see after tomorrow."

The race ends July 22 in Paris.

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AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin and Associated Press writer Greg Keller contributed to this report.

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