Sa­gan pays price for mad­ness of a Tour cy­cle sprint fin­ish

The Guardian Weekly - - Sport - In­side sport Wil­liam Fother­ing­ham

Peter Sa­gan’s ex­clu­sion from the Tour de France, for putting Mark Cavendish into the bar­ri­ers close to the stage four fin­ish line at Vit­tel last Tues­day, was the high­est­pro­file dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion from the race since the en­tire Festina team were sent home in 1998 amid one of the big­gest dop­ing scan­dals in the his­tory of cy­cling.

Given Sa­gan’s pro­file and the fact he was likely to take the over­all green jersey for a record sixth con­sec­u­tive year, it was a huge de­ci­sion. The dis­agree­ments will run and run over whether or not Sa­gan’s el­bow went into Cavendish to im­pede him, or whether it was a re­flex as Sa­gan felt him­self los­ing bal­ance. That may be the wrong ar­gu­ment. Think of rugby union, where red cards are handed out for dan­ger­ous ac­tions, even though there may be no in­tent.

Sprint­ers in­stinc­tively op­er­ate on the limit of what is safe. They are like a gang of kids who play a risky game where the prize is won by a com­bi­na­tion of speed, skill and courage. Some­times adults have to step in and draw the line. In that sense, as well as oth­ers, Sa­gan is the fall guy.

The re­al­ity is Sa­gan prob­a­bly does not know quite what hap­pened, given that there is zero time for re­flec­tion in the heart of a sprint. It is un­likely he would have in­tended to en­dan­ger Cavendish, sim­ply be­cause he would not have had time to process that thought.

What this in­ci­dent did was to rob the Tour of its two big­gest per­son­al­i­ties. The race lost its fastest, most suc­cess­ful sprinter – Cavendish – with a bro­ken shoul­der blade and also its most strik­ing and pop­u­lar star in Sa­gan. The Slo­vak has won hearts in the past five years with his

mix of kooky per­son­al­ity, sphinx-like ut­ter­ances, supreme bike-han­dling and in­domitable spirit.

What may have tipped the bal­ance with cy­cling’s gov­ern­ing body was the fact Sa­gan’s ac­tion brought three rid­ers off their bikes. Ben Swift and John De­genkolb rode on, al­beit with bruises and grazes.

If the mad­ness that grips sprint­ers when the line beck­ons is stayed even a lit­tle, it will have been a de­ci­sion worth tak­ing.

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