Friday Group Ride #31

The best lead out man in the business, Mark Renshaw, didn’t race his bicycle today. Given that the Tour de France was pointed uphill for Stage 13 means the Australian wasn’t going to do that thing he does anyway, but Mark Cavendish must have been awfully lonely in the laughing group.

Renshaw, of course, was relegated and expelled from the Tour after yesterday’s sprint finish to Stage 12. Coming into the final straight, Julian Dean of Garmin-Transitions began leaning into Renshaw, trying to clear some space for his sprinter, Tyler Farrar to come around. Dean was also, probably, trying to limit the amount of space Renshaw and Cavendish had to work in. Renshaw found himself suddenly behind Dean’s shoulder. Leaning back into his rival would only have pushed him backwards, so Renshaw struck out with his head, once, twice, three times, and then, glancing over his left shoulder to see that Farrar was coming around on the other side, he veered across the Garmin fast man’s line, effectively closing him out of the sprint. Cavendish cruised to victory.

See the video here.

In the brief time between the end of the stage and the ruling being handed down, most commentators expressed the belief that Renshaw would be relegated (i.e. given last place) and fined for his extraordinary behavior. Some, but certainly not all, were surprised to hear the Columbia rider was ejected from the race altogether.

The UCI rules governing sprints are not very detailed. Riders are prohibited from intentionally riding across each others lanes, and relegations for this infraction are not uncommon. See Abdoujaparov, Djamolidine.

Renshaw’s expulsion can be attributed, not to his closing out of Farrar, which would have earned a relegation, but to his head-butting of Dean, Tour officials taking the stance that such violent behavior poses a serious risk to surrounding riders in the high-speed chaos of a bunch sprint. Furthermore, given that Cavendish won the stage, officials weren’t content with a simple relegation, as it might have encouraged lead out men to court relegation as a reasonable means to stifling rivals in the closing meters.

What the rules don’t allow for is sanctioning Cavendish for something his teammate did, which puts officials in a tough spot as regards ensuring a fair result for all involved. It would only be too easy to DQ Columbia en mass and promote everyone who finished behind, but, in addition to being outside the purview of the rules, such a resolution raises more questions of fairness than it answers.

Today’s Group Ride asks what you think? Were the commissaires too harsh in kicking Renshaw out of the Tour? Or was his behavior over the line? Given the generally rough nature of bunch sprints, was the expulsion an overreaction to the overt violence (as opposed to the usual covert elbowing) of Renshaw’s lead out? Or is it high time that Columbia’s win-at-all costs sprint gets pegged back a bit? And even if you do think his behavior was over the line, should a team always circle the wagons and defend their riders, or should they admit if they crossed a line?

Whaddaya think?

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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11 comments

  1. Anthony

    My view, at the time I watched it, was Renshaw getting tangled with Dean was instigated both men. Dean leaned in, and the “head butts” looked really bad but not too much happened. I thought that riding across Farrar’s line was worse. It was crazy to see Tyler put his hand out at those crazy speeds to stop from getting ridden into the barrier.

    Still, at the time it happened I thought it was definitely relegation only. Later, after the decision, I saw a slo-mo replay where Renshaw looked back over his left shoulder before he swerved. That looked pretty bad, when I saw that I saw a lot more reason to boot him out.

    Farrar was shaking after the incident. Renshaw seemed pretty calm. Either he didn’t realize what had happened, or he was trying to play it down.

  2. Lachlan

    Julian Dean clearly started the first incident, and while head butts might be more visually impressive than the elbows and leaning, one would have thought the judges would take a more balanced and detailed view of it. Cavendish’s relegation last year was for far less a move and with no elbows compared to what Dean did.

    So from me no negative points for Renshaw there… he just used his head not his elbows and bike!

    However, the second incident looked far more uncalled for. He looked right round at Tyler then drifted over. Thats relegation material for sure.

    Combined – it is clearly relegation material (probably for both Renshaw and Dean) but no way in my book a sending home offence.

    I think the judges do have a bit of an anti-HTC skew as the find them a little too arrogant and Mark ‘talks back’ to their decisions (in the past), so they are harsher on them than others. But C’est la vie, no one said it was 100% fair ; + ) and picking arguments with old french dudes with a tiny bit of power is never a good idea!! Just ask anyone who’s encountered ‘fonctionnaires’ mentality of both private and public service in France.

    Shame for Renshaw more than Cav, as he really is the star behind the star.

  3. Champs

    Had it been just the head butts, I think that Renshaw would have been relegated and fined. The added retaliation of pushing Farrar might make ejection called for.

    What’s unfair is that Dean has gone unpunished.

  4. Matt

    I appreciate McEwen’s comments regarding Renshaw’s move: we knew that head butting, separately, would get a sprinter relegated, and we knew that knowingly moving someone towards the barriers/knowingly blocking someone’s line will get someone relegated, so the race jury created a precedent by doing both in the same sprint. It’s important to point out that relegation and a fine for Renshaw would have meant nothing because Cavendish would have still won. The race jury’s decision was harsh, but the effect will prevent a “Renshaw Combo” from ever happening again; no rider wants to take the risk of getting kicked out. Moreover, my guess is that it will tone down the aggression in the sprints slightly, improving rider safety.

    Was it overly harsh? Yes but the intended effect (i.e., preventing others from doing the same) is established. Besides that, what else could the race jury do? Relegation and a fine are simply not enough because they don’t matter to lead out riders.

  5. Jim

    Poor Columbia and Renshaw and Cav… everywhere they have gone this season, other people crash or get hit or manage to run into the barriers. How unlucky for them!

  6. Lachlan

    I think Matt’s point (deterrent) is exactly whats in the heads of the judges and ASO. They dont want that kind of finish to become common place…. plus maybe just maybe they have one eye on helping keep things a bit more open and exciting in the sprints, rather than have a cavendish after cavendish series of walkovers!

  7. Sir Cumference

    Good decision by the officials. Sprints at this level are exciting and dangerous enough as is. I personally have no desire to see cycling turn into NASCAR on two wheels. (I don’t even like NASCAR on four wheels.)

  8. crit rider 1

    You could also say criteriums are like “horse racing with two legs”. I absolutely abjure that analogy. Pressing a gas pedal is about the same as swinging a jockey whip. Both go in circles, jockeys fall off horses too.

    The head butt was the lesser of the two acts. It was the veer that was Stygian. He shouldn’t have been thrown out though…French commissaires need to HTFU, although they HAVE now set a precedent. Either way you look at it, the sprints are more interesting now. This is a phenominal tour with so many races (thor vs petacchi, radio shacl vs that spanish team, chaingate)…best “soap opera on two wheels” i’ve seen in a while…since we’re using derisory analogies…of course

  9. SinglespeedJarv

    Renshaw claimed not to have seen Farrar when he moved over to the barriers. Now take that bit of info and watch the sprint again.

    Cav comes past Renshaw, who now job is done needs to get out of the way of the rest of the sprinters. Looks to the left and doesn’t see anything because Farrar leaves it very late to cut left. Farrar seeing his way being blocked, puts a hand on Renshaw’s arse and Renshaw instinctively moves away from the barriers to leave space.

    Not saying what he did was right. Dean was not as innocent as he claimed. But probably the correct decision to prevent deliberate foul riding from lead-out men in the future.

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