Friday Group Ride #368

Friday Group Ride #368

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?

, , , , ,


  1. Lyford

    I don’t think the right thing happened.

    The elbow looks bad in still photos from the front, but long lenses compress distance, and from the video I’ve seen Cavendish hit Sagan and was falling before the elbow came out. Sagan did move to his right but it doesn’t appear to me to be a deliberate block.

    It’s rare to see a bunch sprint where everyone holds a straight path to the finish line. There’s usually plenty of road available for everyone to have a clean line. I’d be fine if sprinters were relegated more often for deviations if there were consistent standards. I’d like the jury to include at least one former sprinter.

    If sprinters are side-by-side and one deviates, are the others at fault if they deviate to try to stay clear?

    Going for a gap against the barriers is always a high-risk choice. Even if there’s no deliberate shutting the door, just normal sprint flailing can close that gap.

    I can see relegating Sagan for that incident to send a message that nobody is “too big to fail”, but throwing him out of the Tour seems over-the top. It’d be one thing if there had been a series of high-profile relegations that had no effect on behavior, but to go from “that’s the way sprinting is” to “we’re shocked! shocked!” with no warning seems unfair.

  2. AG

    Speculation, but looked to me that Sagan was trying to block the rider attempting to squeeze in where there really wasn’t enough room by raising his elbow. Sort of like saying “hey buddy, not enough room here, and I don’t want to crash into you”. Maybe a bit aggressive on Sagan’s part, but wasn’t Cav’s move pretty aggressive, as well?

    Sagan should have been docked points so that maybe the green jersey was out of reach (which would have been plenty harsh), but he should have been allowed to race the rest of the race.

    This is pro bike racing, and the riders shouldn’t be coddled. There will be riders who take risks and will put other riders in danger of crashing. Don’t like that? Don’t race bikes. Taming the sprint down to a predictable line-up of riders relegated to staying strictly within virtual lanes and controlling how riders can pass each other will make the sport boring for fans and riders alike.

  3. Miles Archer

    What do I know, but when I heard this, I first thought that he was tossed so there’s a chance for a French sprinter to get the Green Jersey.

  4. Niko

    Dimension Data the primary sponsor of Cav’s team is also one of the sponsoring partners for the TdF organization, ASO. This may have influenced the severity of Sagan’s punishment as ASO has major influence with the UCI.

  5. Gummee!

    While it was happening, it looked like Sagan closed the door hard on Cav as Cav was coming thru that gap. That in and of itself would probably have gotten him relegated. What got him tossed was the elbow.

    I’ve heard the ‘Cav hit his bar’ arguments (as well as all the rest) but watching it live, it seemed pretty obvious that the elbow was intentional and unnecessary.

    You’ll note that Demare dove for a similar gap yesterday and got away with it because no one closed the door on him.

    Personally, I think getting tossed is too big a penalty, but it isn’t up to me.

  6. Dave

    So much to talk about here, I’ll try to be brief.

    First, do you think the right thing happened here and why?
    No, I do not think the right decision was made. After hundreds of thousands of internet sleuths took the time to dissect every recorded view if the incident frame by frame, I think it was clear that although there were a whole lot of things that went wrong, the crash wasn’t solely, or even partially, due to a violent and/or malicious act by Sagan.

    Second why do you think the race jury kicked Sagan out?
    The video of the crash looks terrible, and it indeed appears as though Sagan intentionally elbowed Cav to the ground. I think this particular decision was made due to pressure. Not necessarily pressure to make the specific ruling (though that existed too) but pressure to act, act decisively, and act quickly. I can’t imagine what the race jury was dealing with
    – Throw him out!
    – Act now, we need a decision!
    – Don’t coddle anyone because they’re a star
    – “This was an act of violence!!!”
    – And on and on

    I’ve said it repeatedly, but if the jury didn’t announce such decisions until 90 minutes before the start of the following stage, I suspect we’d have a much different ruling. This is yet another example of where “sleeping on it” would let cooler heads prevail and would allow for more information to come to light. (As an aside, it’s still a shock to me that they tossed a rider without speaking directly to him or his team)

    Third, do you think today’s sprints are too rough…?
    For a variety of reasons I think modern sprinting is more dangerous. Not necessarily more rough, but more dangerous. Oddly what makes them safer is more speed… when a modern lead out squad can dominate others and deliver more decisive wins it cuts down on the bumping and the chaos. But that’s pretty rare. Not sure I agree with the following but one thought is that with the evolution of sprint tactics, modern sprint finishes should come in 2 flavors:

    1) True sprints for pure sprinters. To be safer, these finishes only occur on wide, straight, unobstructed lead-ins so that the bajillion people involved (sprinters, lead out trains, breakaways caught at the line, GC contenders scared of losing a second) can fit. The chaos with many finishes is greatly increased due to bends in the road, road furniture, streets getting narrower towards the finish, etc. I’d probably find these kinds of finishes boring but they’d be generally safer. Then again, finishing on the Champs is tough to beat.

    2) Sprints with punchier sections that force a selection. If the run up to the finish is not going to qualify for above, then it better be enough to thin out the field so that fewer people come to the line together. Sure pure sprinters won’t like this, but times and styles change.

  7. Jay

    It seems counterintuitive to toss one of the most recognized names in the sport from its biggest event for what certainly appears to be an incident in which both riders could be assigned blame. What is more telling is that Demare completely deviated from his line and almost crashed Bouhanni yet he remained the stage winner with no threat of relegation or points being docked. Perhaps there was a conspiracy to dislodge Sagan from the Green Jersey. I may be incorrect, but I believe that his second place would have moved him into the lead in that competition.

  8. Fausto

    Because they are French! It will never make sense but since they are French it was a grand, beautiful gesture and will help an underdog. Now let me have a cigarette.

  9. Aar

    I don’t think Sagan did anything to deserve to be disqualified. In that, I believe somebody moved right on Sagan, forcing him to close the door, Cav crashed into his hip and ribs before the elbow went out, Sagan needed to move some part of his body to the right to keep from going down and his elbow was the only thing that didn’t have Cav hard against him.

    Nonetheless, I agree with the disqualification. The whole peloton was told to sprint cleanly before the Tour or they would be DQed. Bicycle racing has a horrible reputation and it needs to be cleaned up – in every aspect. This was an opportunity and I commend the UCI for having the chutzpah to do it and for placing a tenured, respected commissare in the position to make that decision.

    Yes, I believe somebody else was responsible for the crash. Particularly, whomever deviated into Sagan which forced him to close the door on Cav. Maybe Cav who has the experience to not try to shoot that gap. Maybe Demare who weaved so much that he looked like an F1 driver warming his tires. However, the world’s most high profile sprinters, including a World Champion, leaving the race based upon a single incident sends a HUGE message to the entire peloton and to the casual observer that bicycle racing is trying to clean itself up.

    I know you may not agree that bicycle racing has a horrible reputation but I’ve stopped telling new acquaintances that I’m a cyclist due to the negative comments about doping, crashing, fighting racers and packs of cyclists on roads. IMHO, our passtime needs to clean up it’s act from racing through daily riding.

  10. Gerb61

    I think Niko called it right. ASO seems to have more control over professional cycling than the UCI does. As soon as ASO. can get their man David Lappartient elected president they should pretty much have full control. ASO is a French organization and David Lappartient is French. No French rider has won Le Tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985. Nuff said?

  11. Aar

    Just as food for thought, no counterpoint intended, would a French rider winning le Tour be a bad thing? Since the Festina affair, France has had the most stringent anti-doping and testing programs in the world. It so stringent that riders no longer live and train there in the numbers that they did pre-Festina. Would a French rider winning the Tour signal a cleaner Tour/cycling? It may signal a different form of corruption and cheating but…

  12. Gerb61

    I know I was a little bit off topic there. First let me say that I don’t think Peter Sagan should have been kicked out. To the video, to me, clearly shows that the elbow was a reaction to Cav falling into him. Second, I think a French tour winner would be great, They’ve certainly had a long dry spell. Third, the point I was trying to make earlier was that ASO has been rather heavy handed towards the riders, particularly when it comes to sharing the wealth. Which could help to put teams on a more secure financial footing.Having someone with past ties to ASO become UCI president seems to be a conflict of interest at the very least

  13. Shawn

    The “elbow” is a nothingburger. The elbow was part of Sagan trying to balance and stay upright after colliding with Cav. Plus, there was no contact: Cav was already on the way to the deck by then.

    The right thing did not happen. When sprinters are riding corkscrew paths to the line and are also bold enough to try to shoot a tiny barrier gap to save that precious wheel, there are going to be crashes.

    If sprinting is unsafe these days, it’s because sprinters these days are willing to take dangerous risks. Let them do as they please, but don’t penalize them for doing it unless there is clear evidence of malice.

  14. Mike

    This is not the first time Cavendish has tried to cuddle up to someone else’s shoulder during a sprint.
    You can plainly see him do that to Sagan.
    Sagan’s elbow flick was in response to Cav’s hood touching his forearm.

    Does anyone remember stage -1 of the 2014 tour?
    I remember it very well. And Cav should have been fined and kicked out for that crap. Instead out was remarked that there was a horrific crash and complaints that he would be out due to injury. He earned that injury.
    The 2016 Tour de Suisse was different. Cav was taken out due to someone blatantly deviating from their line.

    Believe it or not, I was happy about Cav leaving. He’s a dirty rider and I have no respect for him.
    The sprints are much safer with Cav out of the picture

  15. Mark hagen

    If you take a look at the timeline of the jury decision they made it less than two hours from the finish. That means that really from the time the protests were filed from cav’s team and they got the video, the decision was probably made in less thank an hour from limited footage of the areal shot (which sucked because of the tree) and the frontal shot which was shot with a long lens and distorted both the depth and speed.
    Their access to the other angles and perhaps other advanced editing tools made their take on the crash very limited and if you look at it at full speed it looks very daming. With more time to interview other riders, find other footage and generally think about it more they could’ve made the more rashonalble decision of docking time bonuses or other popular outcomes which many are proponents to.
    They easily could’ve looked at it into the evening and made the call in the morning.

  16. John Kopp

    From what is saw, Prudhomme was consulted prior to the decision to DQ Sagan, so in light of the TDF changing green jersey rules to keep Sagan from winning again, my cynical opinion is Prudhomme wanted him out, and this was convenient. Guess I agree with Niko and Miles. I just seem to have a feel for the politics involved. Comes from experience.

  17. Dave

    Looks like an even shabbier decision with Nacer Bouhanni getting a mere fine for throwing a punch at Jack Bauer! What nationality is Bouhanni? Oh, yeah, he’s French, that’s right!

  18. John Borstelmann

    The jury apparently missed the fact that the leaders of the sprint all deviated from rider’s left to right during the while sprint. Sagan was only drifting right because everyone in front of him was. He was drafting and positioning properly. He wasn’t deviating from his line. He had no choice. There was no window for Cav, who foolishly tried to fo ce the gap and leaned into Sagan. A terrible call. Even relegation was too big a penalty. DQ was stupid, probably political as others have elaborated.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *