This morning in Vittel, French champion Arnaud Demare won Stage 4 of the Tour de France from a bunch sprint. It’s the first time a French rider has won a bunch sprint at the Tour since 2006, but Demare’s historic victory was overshadowed by a wild crash that took place right behind him, in which world champion Peter Sagan appeared to send Mark Cavendish sprawling into the barriers with an elbow check.
However, if you watch the whole sprint, it becomes clear that Sagan flicked his elbow out to balance himself after Cavendish made contact with him from behind. The sprint was fast and chaotic, and it looks like Sagan veered right to follow Demare’s wheel, which forced Cavendish over to the extreme edge of the road. Cavendish then attempted to shoot the gap, collided with Sagan, hit the deck, and brought down John Degenkolb and Ben Swift with him.
Sagan visited the Dimension Data bus after the race to apologize to Cavendish, who is going to the hospital and is unsure whether he can continue racing. The UCI penalized Sagan for the incident, initially docking him 30 seconds and officially bumping him back to 115th place on the stage. Riders and commentators voiced their displeasure with the decision, and about two hours after the end of the stage, the jury announced that Sagan had officially been disqualified from the Tour for his role in the crash.
Sagan may have been more at fault for the crash, but this is bullshit. Cavendish was pushed off his line then tried to shoot a gap that wasn’t there. Sagan deserves to be penalized for his actions, although a sprint in full flight plays out so quickly that he wasn’t consciously trying to nail Cav to the boards. His high elbow is what drew most of the ire after the race, including from Cav, but it didn’t even make contact. Bike racing is messy and imprecise, and while reckless sprinting does deserve to be penalized, Sagan didn’t intentionally bring down Cavendish. Andre Greipel can drone on about how Sagan isn’t his “friend anymore from now on” and that’ll do nothing to make sprints safer going forward. The crash was, on majority, Sagan’s fault. Just not to the degree that he deserves to get booted.