It’s all anyone seems to want to talk about this week, Peter Sagan’s disqualification from the Tour de France, and oddly, the conversations seem extremely one-sided. I have not yet spoken to anyone who thinks he deserved to be thrown off the race. A few offered ideas as to why they think the race jury took the most extreme approach, but no one has actually told me they think it was the right move.
To recap, Stage 4, run on Tuesday, ended in a bunch sprint. During this sprint, Sagan, trying to follow the wheel of Arnaud Demare, the eventual winner, was deemed to have pulled across Mark Cavendish’s line as Cav was also trying to get on Demare’s wheel. Sagan, in effect, closed the door on Cavendish, who swerved into the barriers along the right side of the road, crashing dramatically and taking down two other riders in the process. At the point of collision between the two, Sagan raised his elbow in what some deemed a flicking motion, often seen in sprints where contact has taken place, although it did not appear that the elbow itself caused Cavendish to crash. The race jury initially relegated Sagan for an irregular sprint (i.e. deviating from his line) and docked him points in the Green Jersey competition. Subsequently, the kicked him out of the race.
The arguments against disqualifying him include: 1) he didn’t deviate from his line very much, 2) he had position on Demare’s wheel, 3) there was not enough room along the barriers for Cavendish to pass, 4) the elbow motion from Sagan was a reaction to being crashed into from behind, not an effort to dislodge Cavendish, 5) these are the things that happen all the time in bunch sprints, 6) Demare himself deviated from his line, coming across the road to take the win, 7) relegation on the stage would have sent a clear message on its own, 7) Sagan is too important to the growth of the sport to be treated so harshly, 8) Cavendish is hardly an angel, 9) none of the crashed riders took personal issue with Sagan, 10) Sagan evinced genuine remorse for the incident, 11) you pay your money, you take your chances in pro cycling.
Did I miss anything?
The arguments FOR disqualification that I’ve read (notably from Cavendish’s DS Rolf Aldag, who has been there and done that, too) include: 1) you can’t throw an elbow like that, 2) pro sprints have become too crazy. They’ve crossed a line, and everyone needs to dial it back, so we need to make an example of Sagan, 3) ASO has become increasingly clear that the Tour is a television sport, and they don’t want their biggest starts murdering each other on the road in front of millions of fans (In this, there are parallels with F1 where the authorities have cracked down on contact between cars so as to avoid a Faces of Death scenario in a big race), 4) Sagan is a hot shot and needs to be taken down a peg.
In my mind, it’s awfully hard to take 10 of the fastest sprinters in the world, point them down a finishing straight at 45mph and then think you can avoid incidents like this one, which looked in slow motion, an awful lot like and accident. My opinion counts for what the French call Jacque Merde, though.
This week’s Group Ride asks a few questions. First, do you think the right thing happened here and why? Second, even if you disagree with the decision, why do you think the race jury kicked Sagan out? Third, do you think today’s sprints are too rough, or has modern sprinting become safer and safer, making events like Tuesday’s more shocking?