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Peter Sagan disqualification appeal rejected: Unpicking Stage 4 of the 2017 Tour de France

Joseph Delves
5 Jul 2017

With Sagan confirmed out, we try and untangle the bikes and limbs that made up one of the most controversial sprints ever

This is really the point of a sprint stage. A boring day of easy riding for the GC boys, followed by a few seconds of high drama and an avalanche of opinions and column inches afterwards.

With Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) injured and out of the 2017 Tour de France, and World Champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) disqualified, everyone has a view on both the split-second decisions made by the riders, and the only slightly less rushed decision of the race jury.

The Tour de France organisers reacted quickly, first by relegating and then by disqualifying Peter Sagan. But is it fair to lay blame with the high-profile rider?

Given how chaotic they tend to be, it might come as a surprise than only one key rule governs sprint finishes at UCI sanctioned races:

‘Sprints (2.3.036) Riders shall be strictly forbidden to deviate from the lane they selected when launching into the sprint and, in so doing, endangering others.’

Summary - Stage 4 Finish - Tour de France 2017 by tourdefrance_en

Yesterday was a classic sprint stage which saw the remaining fast riders lining up against each other. With André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) being led out by a team mate, Cavendish looked in a good position, sitting sixth behind eventual winner Arnaud Démare’s (FDJ), and Sagan.

However as Alexander Kristoff (Katusha Alpecin) took the lead he moved gradually from the left to the right of the road. Behind him this caused space for the riders on the inside to rapidly decrease.

Perhaps realising that the space between Kristoff and the barrier was about to evaporate, Démare nipped through a gap behind Kristoff and the chasing Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis).

Summary - Stage 4 - Tour de France 2017 by tourdefrance_en

The move was utterly audacious. With no room for any rider to follow after him it sealed the win. However, in doing so Démare interrupted Bouhanni’s sprint and almost caused a second crash.

Immediately behind as this was happening were Sagan and Cavendish.

Cavendish had been closely marking Démare, having correctly identified him as a likely winner.

But as Démare started to accelerate, Sagan also attempted to stick himself to Démare’s wheel. With little space to the right of the road, a crash was almost inevitable.

In an already messy sprint, at that moment neither Sagan or Cavendish had done anything wrong. However, as Sagan goes into the side of Cavendish he appears to deliberately elbow barge him.

Was Sagan within his rights to push against Cavendish? In doing so he probably prevented himself going down, in a situation in which one rider crashing seemed inescapable.

Or was there an unacceptable level of carelessness or even malice in his actions? It’s very hard to say. It’s also very hard to say how anyone might behave in the 60 kilometre-an-hour chaos of a bunch sprint.

Any number of riders could have been sanctioned for violating the rule forbidding them to ‘deviate from the lane they selected when launching into the sprint and, in so doing, endangering others’. But everyone knows riders don’t contest sprints in the style of model racehorses, set in their tracks as on some beach-front arcade machine. As Sagan said of the incident: ’It’s not the first one and not the last one.’

Chaos is inherent in any sprint finish and that’s what makes them so exciting. The jostling, red mist, crashes and moral ambiguity are all part of what makes sprint stages worth watching.

Both Cavendish and Sagan have been involved in this sort of incident before, both as victim and perpetrator.

Both have paid heavy prices. But both will be back at work soon.