The Tour de France leader Bradley Wiggins was struck a glancing blow by a flare let off by some demonstrators on the side of the road, causing minor burns to his arm on a day when David Millar produced his own fireworks to claim Britain's fourth stage win this year.
Wiggins also admitted he had had a brief moment of self-doubt under the barrage of questions he has faced about drug use in cycling since taking the lead.
"Quite a few guys let flares off; it was pretty dangerous and my arm was burnt a bit but I'm pretty sure those guys are nursing a few wounds – we [the riders in the peloton] threw water bottles back in their direction," he said.
"I said to my wife after that press conference [last Sunday] , 'What is the point in winning the Tour if there is going to be suspicion?' But hopefully I'm going to be able to show to people that I can set precedents and prove that the Tour can be won on bread and water."
Yesterday, however, belonged to Millar. He provided the best of reminders that top British road-racing is not just about Team Sky when he claimed the fourth Tour stage win of his career with a finely timed sprint against France's Jean-Christophe Péraud.
After getting into a day-long break of five as the Tour left the Alps and crossed to the foothills of the Ardeche, then shadowing Péraud as the Frenchman dropped the other three breakaways on the last drag to the finish at Annonay Davézieux, the veteran Scot's final charge to victory was carried out in the Garmin-Sharp rider's trademark elegant style.
Péraud did his best to outpower Millar, but in a drawn-out sprint duel, the 35-year-old more than rose to the occasion, thumping the air with his right hand again and again – before briefly collapsing from the effort after the finish.
"I didn't expect to be at the front but I was feeling great," Millar said. "I knew my tactics from 120 kilometres out; I knew I wanted this to end in a sprint. It's been a horrific Tour for us [Garmin-Sharp lost team leader and Tour of Italy winner Ryder Hesjedal to a crash on stage four] but I wanted to prove we're still here."
Looking ahead towards the Olympic Games, where Millar will form part of the GB line-up after a prolonged battle over the right of British competitors to take part if, like the Scot, they have served doping sentences, Millar argued that his victory was the best of omens for the London road-race and time trial.
"We're already proving one of the top nations in the world – world champion [Mark Cavendish], Brad Wiggins and Chris Froome, and me the old dog winning a stage – we're at the top. Our Olympic team is pretty damn scary."
Movingly, Millar recalled that yesterday was a special day for cycling, being the 45th anniversary of the death of the pioneer British Tour rider Tom Simpson on the slopes of Mont Ventoux. "It's very important to be able to do this on a day like today and to do something in recognition of Tom Simpson," Millar said. "That's the kind of thing we can't forget."
Millar, now well known as an anti-doping crusader, said: "At the same time it's particularly poignant that on the anniversary of Simpson's death [from a mixture of exhaustion, dehydration, and very possibly drug use ] I went and won today. I'm an ex-doper, and now I'm clean, and I hope this kind of win will help to restore confidence in the sport and show where cycling has come in the last 45 years – and even the last five years."
Close to the front as the bunch split on the last little drag, Wiggins's most visible moment prior to the finale came as he finished off the work by Sky throughout the mountains with a little dig at the summit of the final Alpine climb, the Col du Granier – almost in recognition of his team-mates' efforts on all the previous climbs.
There is every chance that Britain will claim its fifth stage win today as the race cranks up for its first bunch sprint in a week. One of the few shots of Cavendish yesterday was in a team worker role, the world champion's jersey stuffed with water-bottles. If the cross-winds along the Mediterranean coast do not split the bunch apart, he should be a lot closer to the front today.
Stage 12: Details & standings
Stage 12 , Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne - Annonay Davezieux, 226km: 1 D Millar (GB) Garmin - Sharp 5hrs 42mins 46secs, 2 J-C Peraud (Fr) AG2R La Mondiale at same time, 3 E Martinez De Esteban (Sp) Euskaltel - Euskadi at 5secs, 4 C Gautier (Fr) Team Europcar at same time, 5 R Kiserlovski (Croa) Astana Pro Team at same time, 6 P Sagan (Slovak) Liquigas-Cannondale at 7.53, 7 M Harley Goss (Aus) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team at same time, 8 S Hinault (Fr) AG2R La Mondiale at 7.54, 9 C Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team at same time, 10 L Paolini (It) Katusha Team at same time, 11 J Simon (Fr) Saur - Sojasun at same time, 12 B Wiggins (GB) Sky Procycling at same time, 13 M Marcato (It) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team at same time, 14 N Roche (Rep Ire) AG2R La Mondiale at same time, 15 C Froome (GB) Sky Procycling at same time, 16 J Brajkovic (Sloven) Astana Pro Team at same time, 17 V Nibali (It) Liquigas-Cannondale at same time, 18 J Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team at same time, 19 D Impey (SA) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team at same time, 20 J Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team at same time. Selected GB: 90 S Cummings BMC Racing Team at 10mins 15secs, 161 M Cavendish (GB) Sky Procycling at 11.59.
Overall: 1 B Wiggins (GB) Sky Procycling 54hrs 34mins 33secs, 2 C Froome (GB) Sky Procycling at 2mins 5secs, 3 V Nibali (It) Liquigas-Cannondale at 2.23, 4 C Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team at 3.19, 5 J Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team at 4.48, 6 H Zubeldia Agirre (Sp) RadioShack-Nissan at 6.15, 7 T Van Garderen (US) BMC Racing Team at 6.57, 8 J Brajkovic (Sloven) Astana Pro Team at 7.30, 9 P Rolland (Fr) Team Europcar at 8.31, 10 T Pinot (Fr) FDJ-Big Mat at 8.51, 11 A Klˆden (Ger) RadioShack-Nissan at 9.29, 12 F Schleck (Lux) RadioShack-Nissan at 9.45, 13 N Roche (Rep Ire) AG2R La Mondiale at 10.49, 14 J Coppel (Fr) Saur - Sojasun at 11.27, 15 C Horner (US) RadioShack-Nissan at 12.41, 16 D Menchov (Rus) Katusha Team at 17.21, 17 M Monfort (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan at 17.41, 18 E Martinez De Esteban (Sp) Euskaltel - Euskadi at 18.04, 19 A Valverde Belmonte (Sp) Movistar Team at 18.55, 20 R A Faria Da Costa (Portugal) Movistar Team at 19.02. Selected GB: 79 D Millar Garmin - Sharp at 1hr 18mins 32secs, 86 S Cummings BMC Racing Team at 1:25.07, 152 M Cavendish Sky Procycling at 2:06.04.