I have just arrived in the press centre and it is 4.30 pm and 40km to go in the 216km stage 6 from Vesoul to Troyes. The lead out teams are on the front now and the breakaway, as usual, is on its way back into the swarm. Sure enough 4km to go and the break is caught. Now the pace is ramping up and the frantic pace lifts another notch. As we approach the final kilometre the lead out men are doing their most to get their man to the front and then the frenetic final 200 metres sees German sprint star Marcel Kittel power over the top of Arnaud Demure and Andre Geipel with Aussie Michael Matthews just back in seventh spot. It definitely looks like these three will battle it out for the green jersey all the way to Paris
As I open my laptop to write my piece on the controversial expulsion of Peter Sagan up pops a tweet from the man himself saying thank you to about 20,000 fans who have wished him well and, from what I can gather from the few I read, were angry at his disqualification with all saying that he was not in the wrong.
It made me think of what it is like at an Aussie Rules game when you hear the fans disputing an umpire’s decision. Fans seem to only see the incident from their team’s perspective. Most of the tweets I read were blasting ASO, the Tour de France organisation, and even suggesting some type of conspiracy to help Frenchman Arnaud Demare get the green. But that is ridiculous because it is the race jury, part of the world body the UCI that makes these decisions and has nothing to do with ASO.
Mark Cavendish, who is recovering with a broken shoulder, has had to turn of his social media off for a short while as he is getting so much nasty and negative flack. For crying out loud he is the victim here! He did not ask Sagan to change his line and run into him.
It has been an interesting couple of days immersed in the Sagan saga. When I first saw the incident I thought it was Sagan’s fault and when I then saw the overhead vision and the flick of the elbow agreed that his expulsion was warranted.
On re-watching the crash numerous times (it now rolls around my head in my dreams) I thought it may have been a bit harsh and that the officials first call to fine him heavily and relegate him to last in the peloton was correct.
As I wrote the other day in my column in the Geelong Advertiser, it was the flick of the elbow that caused the most reaction from officials and the entire cycling world but when you slow it down that was not what caused Cav to hit the barricade. Cavendish was following stage winner Arnaud Demare through the closing gap and then Sagan moves over. Sagan’s rump collects Cav and that put him into the fence. The elbow happens after they initially collided and I do not believe that had anything to do with crash. But it did look bad.
What has been really interesting is walking around the team buses and catching a few of the riders and team officials and getting their take. General consensus surprised me in that most seem to like Sagan but felt he needed to be pulled into line. There is a genuine appreciation of just how important Peter Sagan is to the sport of cycling. He is the biggest character in the sport and attracts the crowds, the sponsors and the media. But there is also a strong feeling that, as king of the peloton, he seems to think that he can go where he likes and has a bit of baggage as far as dangerous sprints are concerned. Riders felt that Sagan was heavily involved in the crash that happened a few hundred metres earlier that brought down the race leader Geraint Thomas and also in a clash in the intermediate sprint the previous day.
I spoke with Doug Ryder the team manager of Dimension Data, Mark Cavendish’s team. “If Peter feels he did nothing wrong then why did he come straight to our bus and apologise,” said Ryder. “You do not do that if you have done nothing wrong. Now he may be saying that he was just enquiring about Cav’s condition but that’s not what happened. What is my view? Well it was a crazy sprint. There was a lot of deviation with Demare and Bouhani - and some say Cav tried to get through a gap that wasn’t there – well the gap was there and Cav was following Demare through.
“The jury said at the start of the race that they were going to clamp down,” he continued. “They wanted clean sprinting. Mark has a broken shoulder and this is the same type of injury he got early in the Tour in Yorkshire a few years back but Mark is incredibly tough and he will be back. Look Mark is no angel and had some rough sprints in his early days but he has matured. Mark is not the bad guy here and he is very disappointed in the messages and social media that is attacking him. Mark and our team had nothing to do with the Jury decision. He’s not the enemy here.“
The last time a rider being kicked out of the Tour was 2010 when Australian Mark Renshaw clashed with New Zealander Julien Dean (now technical director Orica Scott) and Renshaw was disqualified. Ironically Renshaw was Cavendish’s leadout man back then and is still doing that job this year. I remember being angry at the time that he was kicked off the Tour. Interestingly Mark now believes that the Jury had it right.
“I don’t think the jury are silly,” Renshaw said. “At that point in my career I needed to be bought down a few levels.” There are times when the jury has to put some pressure on the riders to tone it down a bit. Mark continued: “Sagan is the King at the moment – for sure he’s liked, he is a character, he has charisma but if you look at his riding style – well he goes where he wants when he wants.”
Sunweb Director Sportif Australian Luke Roberts is an Olympic Gold Medallist and twice rode the Tour de France. When asked about the Sagan incident he was open in his assessment. “The jury would have looked at the incidents in the finale and made their decision on the severity of the movement of Sagan. Past history definitely is taken into account.”
When I mentioned his expulsion presented a great opportunity for his number one rider Michael Matthews he was very circumspect. “This leaves the race for the Green Jersey wide open. Michael has a real chance now but Demare and Kittel are quality sprinters and there are a lot of flat stages. Michael will have to lift his game in those easier days as he’s been finishing around 8th to 9th but will need to get much closer or the gap will be too big to pull back.”