Sagan pays price for madness of a Tour cycle sprint finish
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.