Spain's Luis-Leon Sanchez was triumphant on a sabotage-hit stage 14 as Tour de France leader Bradley Wiggins retained the yellow jersey entering the race's final week.
But afterwards the British star said the tacks on the road, which caused a litany of punctures in the peloton, showed how vulnerable riders are on the road, where more severe incidences could yet occur.
Jean-Francois Pescheux, competitions director of Tour organisers Amaury Sports Organisation, confirmed around 30 riders suffered punctures on the climb of Mur de Peguere on the 191-kilometre route from Limoux to Foix.
Defending champion Cadel Evans was among those to suffer flat tyres and the stage was neutralised, initially by Wiggins' Team Sky squad, as the peloton rolled in more than 18 minutes behind stage winner Sanchez.
Wiggins, who changed bikes as a result of a mechanical problem, said: "What can you do? It's something we can't control. There's nothing stopping more of that sort of stuff happening.
"It's sad. Those 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.
"It's quite sad and hopefully that's not going to continue.
"There's nothing you can do about it. We just have to get on with it."
One of the many attractions for roadside spectators is their proximity to the peloton, particularly on climbs, but there can be hazards for riders - Wiggins was burnt by a flare on Friday's 12th stage.
The Mur de Peguere, a 9.3km category one climb at an average gradient of 7.9%, was making its Tour debut and there was the potential for drama - but no one envisaged what occurred.
The gradient of the slope ramps up severely, to 18%, in the second half of the ascent, which is as narrow as a single car and shaded by trees.
But none of the overall contenders attacked and at the summit Evans stopped for a wheel change.
With an escape up the road seeking the stage win and general classification contenders in the main bunch up ahead, Evans panicked while waiting more than a minute for a spare rear wheel.
On the descent Wiggins changed his bike and quickly realised something was wrong, ordering his Team Sky colleagues to slow their pace.
Evans, meanwhile, remounted his bike and passed Robert Kiserlovski (Astana), who had tumbled to the tarmac - possibly as a result of a puncture from a tack - and was forced to abandon with a suspected fractured collarbone.
The Australian required two further rear wheel changes, finally settling on a clean tyre when his team car caught up with him.
In the meantime, there was a split in the peloton and Pierre Rolland (Europcar) attacked.
Order was soon restored and Evans' group caught up as the top of the general classification standings remained unchanged, with Rolland, ninth overall, reprimanded by the peloton for his move.
Wiggins, who is seeking to become the Tour's first British winner next Sunday, added: "So many guys punctured at once, it became quite apparent very quickly that something was up.
"I don't know whether he (Rolland) knew or not. I knew straight away something had happened.
"I just thought it (Rolland's attack) was a little bit uncouth at that time. The stage was gone, we'd been up the climb, which was very tough, no one went away, the race was over.
"It didn't seem the honourable thing to do, to benefit from other people's misfortune at a part of the race which was over."
Wiggins enters the 158.5km 15th stage from Samatan to Pau, which is likely to end in a sprint finish, with a lead of two minutes five seconds over Team Sky colleague Chris Froome, with Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) 2mins 23secs adrift in third and Evans 3:19 back in fourth. It is set to be his eighth day in the race leader's yellow jersey.
Members of the peloton were not the only victims of 'Tack-gate'. Race director Christian Prudhomme revealed motorbikes and car tyres were also deflated.
"It could have had dramatic consequences on a descent like that," Prudhomme said.
Pescheux added: "They are imbeciles to have done this."
The day's 11-man escape appeared unaffected - suggesting the tacks were laid between the groups - and Sanchez (Rabobank) made his solo bid for the line 11km from home to claim a fourth Tour stage success.
Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) was 47 seconds behind in second, Sandy Casar (FDJ-Bigmat) third, Philippe Gilbert fourth and Gorka Izaguirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi) fifth.
The sabotage overshadowed Sanchez's triumph.
"When I saw that Sagan and Gilbert were also in the break, I thought it would be almost impossible to beat them, and my only option was to attack from a long way out," the Spaniard said.
"I've won four stages on the Tour de France, and I intend to keep adding more."
Tour organisers later confirmed the incident had been reported to the French police for investigation.
Leading final positions after Stage 14 (Limoux - Foix, 191km):
1 Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team 4hrs 50mins 29secs
2 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale at 47secs
3 Sandy Casar (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat at same time
4 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team at same time
5 Gorka Izaguirre Insausti (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi at same time
6 Sergio Miguel Moreira Paulinho (Por) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank at 2.51
7 Sebastien Minard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale at same time
8 Martin Velits (Svk) Omega Pharma-Quickstep at 3.49
9 Eduard Vorganov (Rus) Katusha Team at 4.51
10 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team at 4.53
11 Cyril Gautier (Fra) Team Europcar at 14.53
12 Luis Angel Mate Mardones (Spa) Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne at 18.15
13 Julien Simon (Fra) Saur - Sojasun at same time
14 Mikael Cherel (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale at same time
15 Bradley Wiggins (Gbr) Sky Procycling at same time
16 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team at same time
17 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale at same time
18 Kristijan Koren (Slo) Liquigas-Cannondale at same time
19 Brice Feillu (Fra) Saur - Sojasun at same time
20 Christopher Froome (Gbr) Sky Procycling at same time
Selected Others: 85 Stephen Cummings (Gbr) BMC Racing Team 5hrs 16mins 30secs, 143 David Millar (Gbr) Garmin - Sharp at 28mins 18secs, 148 Mark Cavendish (Gbr) Sky Procycling at same time
General classification after Stage 14:
1 Bradley Wiggins (Gbr) Sky Procycling 64hrs 41mins 16secs
2 Christopher Froome (Gbr) Sky Procycling at 2mins 05secs
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale at 2.23
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team at 3.19
5 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team at 4.48
6 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) RadioShack-Nissan at 6.15
7 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team at 6.57
8 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana Pro Team at 7.30
9 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar at 8.31
10 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat at 8.51
11 Andreas Kloden (Ger) RadioShack-Nissan at 9.29
12 Frank Schleck (Lux) RadioShack-Nissan at 9.45
13 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale at 10.49
14 Jerome Coppel (Fra) Saur - Sojasun at 11.27
15 Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack-Nissan at 12.41
16 Denis Menchov (Rus) Katusha Team at 17.21
17 Maxime Monfort (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan at 17.41
18 Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi at 18.04
19 Rui Alberto Faria Da Costa (Por) Movistar Team at 19.02
20 Chris Anker Sorensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank at 20.12
Selected Others: 86 David Millar (Gbr) Garmin - Sharp 66hrs 23mins 55secs, 91 Stephen Cummings (Gbr) BMC Racing Team at 1hr 46mins 57secs,149 Mark Cavendish (Gbr) Sky Procycling 2.24.43