By John Marsh, Editor & Publisher
Another week of the Tour de France, another dose of controversy. This seems to be a Tour destined to be most remembered not for epic racing but for the realization of many of the potential negatives inherent in the race.
I don’t know about you, but on my rides with buddies last week and this, one hot topic of conversation continued to be PeterSagan‘s disqualification. And the other was the incredible crash-marred Stage 9, which took out 11 (I’ve also read 12) riders on the day.
I read numerous accounts of the stage, but CNN’s lead in its article best captured the day, for me:
“From the lakeside town of Nantua to the city of Chambéry, collarbones were fractured, kneecaps were dislocated and lungs were punctured. It’s supposed to be a bike race, but by the end of Sunday, stage nine of the 104th Tour de France felt more like an episode of a TV hospital drama.”
The nastiest crash was Richie Porte‘s, which you’ve surely seen by now. On a slick, left-bending turn on the final descent at about 45 mph (72 kph), Porte locked up his rear wheel, went off the road’s left side in the grassy shoulder, hit the edge of the road and then careened across the entire width of the road into the rock wall on the right side. It’s a miracle he only suffered a fractured pelvis and fractured collarbone – neither of which will require surgery.
Among the other riders crashing out on the day was race leader Chris Froome‘s chief lieutenant Geraint Thomas, who was in 2nd place in the GC at the time and had won the Tour’s opening time trial in Dusseldorf. He, too, suffered a fractured clavicle.
Just as it’s unheard of for the world champion to be disqualified for a perceived infraction in a sprint (more on that in a moment), it’s equally unheard of for a Tour stage to be so dangerous as to take out over 10 riders – including both the race leader’s main rival and his chief lieutenant.
The man who Porte wiped out as he slammed into that rock wall, Dan Martin, said after finishing the stage: “I guess the organizers got what they wanted.” (Martin somehow got back on his bike and finished the stage, despite crashing again later.)
In fact, it was a hot topic of discussion in the media (and among novice riders all over) after the stage about whether it was simply too dangerous.
It’s a fair question, to be sure.
Let’s not forget that these riders are the absolute best bike handlers in the world, and regularly ride and train on roads that can be tricky and treacherous. And still, this stage was nasty enough to crash out a dozen of the best riders in the world.
Between Stage 9 and Sagan’s DQ, it makes you wonder what the UCI and the Tour’s organizers are thinking right about now. Many of the rest of us aren’t really thinking about the racing – and that’s the real problem.
Reader Feedback to the Sagan DQ
The consensus agreement among readers to last week’s story about world champion Peter Sagan’s disqualification can be pretty well summed up in its entirety by three of the many comments to that article:
scott f feighner wrote:
I think Sagan got hosed on this one. Cavendish was being an aggressive rider during the sprint, as one will be during this final mad dash. He wound up in a spot where there was nowhere for him to go. It appears that Cavendish was falling before Sagan lifted his arm to stabilize himself. It also appears, via the available video footage, that the only contact made was Cavendish pressing his head against Sagan in an effort to gain stability. Sagan’s elbow never made contact his Cavendish.
Jeff Dieffenbach wrote:
Scott, I agree with you. There is video from both the top and the front. Like many people, I’ve watched both many times at regular speed, slow speed, and paused. Yes, Sagan moves to his right, but not abruptly. Yes, Cav leans left onto Sagan in response, but not heavily. However, Cav’s left brake hood comes up under Sagan’s arm, which he slowly starts to move to his right in response. Thrown off by the contact that he initiated (inpart because he was running out of room), Cav immediately started to fall to his right. It’s only after Cav starts to fall that Sagan’s elbow goes out sharply, and there is not contact at that point. A penalty to Sagan would have been harsh, but disqualification was totally uncalled for.
The disqualification was unwarranted. At most, a relegation, fine and docking of points might have been justified. But Sagan looked like the least of the offenders in the sprint as far as holding his line. The winner came all the way across the field and should have been relegated. Tough to tell what happened between Cavendish and Sagan. It looks like the initial contact was from Cavendish. Sagan may have moved off his line to the right but did he really know Cavendish was there? I have a tough time accepting that Sagan acted maliciously. More likely he was reacting instinctively to being bumped. In any case it’s unfathomable how you get a disqualification out of that video evidence. Bad job UCI, but I guess we have to consider the source.
Got anything to add? Please do so in the Comments, below.
Stan Purdum says
Not all of the riders whose tour ended in stage 9 crashed out. Reportedly five timed out; that is, they didn’t complete the route within the required time. The total number out I heard was 13, including the five timed out. Still, the crashes were significant.
I disagree with the three comments above. Please note the angle of Sagan’s bike by looking at the front & rear wheels. You’ll note that Sagan’s bike is angle to the right to close the gap to his right, where Cavendish is trying to pass Sagan. Now notice the space on Sagan’s immediate left. Sagan had room to move to the left. Why didn’t Sagan move to his left just a foot? Because to move to his left would have allowed Cavendish to successfully come alongside Sagan. In the peloton riders frequently have to make adjustments to their line of ride, so this would not have been some extraordinary maneuver for Sagan. From all perspectives that I’ve seen, Sagan cutoff Cavendish, Cavendish tried to push Sagan away from him with his head, Sagan responded by continuing on his angled line of ride to push Cavendish into the barrier on the right and then Sagan used his right elbow to force Cavendish away from him and into the barrier. Again, note Sagan’s line of ride by following his back-front wheels and you’ll see the Sagan was angled towards the barrier in an effort to cutoff Cavendish, even though there was room to Sagan’s left. So there. 😉
Brian Nystrom says
You apparently saw different footage than anyone else, as what you describe is not what happened. Sagan was drifting very slightly right due to the rider in front of him (Demare), before Cavendish hit him. Cavendish was trying to force his way into a hole that wasn’t there and leaned into Sagan as he started to fall. Sagan reacted to the impact by trying to stabilize himself. His elbow never made contact with Cavendish, which is quite clear from the video.
Cavendish has made this same type of stupid desperation move several times in his career, typically causing crashes that take him and other riders down. Sagan’s superb bike handling skill kept him upright. If anyone should have been punished for this crash, it should have been Cavendish, but that would have been pointless given the outcome. Sagan got screwed by a race jury that was trying to make an example of him (one of them said as much), plain and simple.
With all of the distraction surrounding the Sagan/Cavendish crash, Arnaud Demare got away with a nasty hook of Nacer Bouhanni’s front wheel, which should have resulted in relegation. The fact that both riders involved are French probably had a lot to do with the lack of a protest by Bouhanni and the race jury turning a blind eye to Demare’s blatant infraction.
Bouhanni punched a Quickstep rider on Stage 11 and got nothing more than a small fine and a completely meaningless 1 minute time penalty. How is that justice?
I stumbled across a podcast with Lance Armstrong (yes, he is still out there in the world of cycling) on you tube (“Stages Podcast Lance Armstrong – Tour de France Stage 4 – Sagan & Cavendish Crash”). It is a pretty good take on the crash overall. The best point that Armstrong makes is that these crashes will continue as long as the race directors narrow the course at the finish. Armstrong says until the riders get organized and demand a seat at the table where race courses are set these dangerous finishes will continue. What Armstrong didn’t address is the fact that the drama of crashes is what sells the race to viewers and that the directors are fully aware of that fact and so have no real interest in creating a safer race.
Jeff Dieffenbach says
And one of those who timed out was “Shifty” Demare!
Jeff Dieffenbach says
I wish I didn’t, but I find myself liking the Armstrong podcast. (His co-host, not so much–apparently, the selection criterion was “owns a studio-equipped Airstream trailer.”)