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?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International