Should Peter Sagan have been disqualified from the Tour de France? Hell, no…

Opinion on a race now poorer for its missing sprint stars

Online opinion can't save him now: Peter Sagan was disqualified from the Tour de France on Tuesday, which means that the race will have to continue without one of its greatest ambassadors.

Sagan – arguably the greatest thing to have happened to professional cycling since quick-release wheels -- will no longer pedal the roads of France this July. And that's a massive shame.

Really, whether you're a fan of the zany Slovakian or not, his expulsion leaves a gaping hole in this year's race – a gap that even Mark Cavendish could fit through.

But personality can be no gauge of who does or doesn't get disqualified. Neither should whether a rider crashes or not. Yes, Cavendish was the unlucky recipient of Sagan's shoulder – or was it his elbow? – but the fact that the British sprinter hit the deck shouldn't really come into it.

Elbows out, shoulders bumping, even heads colliding, are all part and parcel of the joys of sprinting – actions that often go unpunished if they're deemed not to have overtly changed the outcome of the run to the line. Most top-level sprinters will do whatever they think they can get away with, but none of them want to take down any of their colleagues, who, more often than not, are also friends. They simply want to beat them.

Deviating too much from your line, on the other hand, often risks the wrath of the race judges, with the punishment usually being relegation to last place in the group and a time penalty. Which was the initial punishment meted out to Sagan in this case.

Did Sagan deviate from his line? Sure, a little, as he moves to try to get onto French champion Arnaud Démare's wheel. Cavendish – the faster sprinter – tries to squeeze through the gap between Sagan and the crowd barriers as both he and the world champion attempt to follow eventual stage winner Démare.

Sagan claimed afterwards that he didn't know that anyone was behind him, but, even if he did, he certainly wouldn't have wanted to let Cavendish past without a fight. The elbow is definitely thrown – no doubt – but seemingly long (milliseconds…) after Cavendish has bumped off Sagan's shoulder and is en route to the ground.

The UCI race commissaires took a closer look, and then dropped the hammer: Sagan was out for having "seriously endangered some of his colleagues", according to race-jury president Philippe Mariën. Not only had Cavendish crashed, but the knock-on effect had also taken down compatriot Ben Swift (UAE-Emirates) and Trek-Segafredo's John Degenkolb. Both will continue in the race but do so with injuries sustained in the crash.

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No number of opinion pieces or outcry is going to change the race jury's decision, although Sagan's Bora-Hansgrohe team did appeal, which, it seems at time of writing, has fallen on deaf ears.

But who remembers 2013? Who remembers poor Tom Veelers sprawled on the ground with a couple of hundred metres to go of stage 10? That was Cavendish wot done it, your honour, giving Veelers the shoulder as he sought to jump onto the wheel of Marcel Kittel – Veelers' Argos-Shimano team-mate.

On that occasion – and the commissaires did take a long, hard (but seemingly blurry) look at the footage afterwards – Cavendish was deemed not to have done anything wrong. Comparing that incident to the current Cavendish-Sagan furore, though, you have to have a very special way of looking at the world if you consider Sagan's move to be more malicious than Cavendish's 2013 one.

Cavendish's reaction after the incident four years ago – and you'll definitely remember this – was to grab the voice-recorder of a journalist who dared to ask whether Veelers' crash had been Cavendish's fault.

It was a somewhat calmer, more mature Cavendish who emerged from his Dimension Data team bus on Tuesday afternoon, his right arm already in a sling. It would be confirmed later that he had indeed fractured his shoulder blade – the same one he broke on the opening stage of the 2014 Tour de France in a crash that also took down Australia's Simon Gerrans.

Back then, Cavendish was quick to apologise to Gerrans afterwards; likewise, Sagan immediately headed to Cavendish's team bus on Tuesday.

"I get on with Peter well," Cavendish told the throng of reporters. "But I'm not a fan of him putting his elbow into me like that."

So it's good-bye to Peter Sagan, and farewell to Mark Cavendish. The race is now all the poorer for their absence.

But let's look on the bright side – even if Sagan, Cavendish, or either of their respective entourages probably can't quite yet: neither Sagan nor Cavendish can win the points title this year anymore. And now that all the winners prior to them have retired, it means there's going to be a new name in the green jersey on the podium in Paris. 

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