Cooke: For Sagan to be kicked out in disgrace is not on

Race commissaires should have bike racing experience, says former Tour de France green jersey winner

Former Tour de France green jersey winner Baden Cooke knows his way around a bunch sprint finish and believes Peter Sagan's exclusion from the Tour de France is a "huge shame for the sport".

The world champion was disqualified from the Tour following his involvement in a crash with Mark Cavendish at the end of stage 4 into Vittel.

"It would bet that whoever made this decision has never been involved in a big bunch sprint before" Cooke told Cyclingnews. "I think race commissaires should always have raced a bike. Not always professionally but at some level. This is a dangerous sport, and we need the people who are calling the shots to understand it."

Originally second on the stage behind Arnaud Demare, the race jury made the decision to disqualify Sagan, having first docked him 30 seconds and 80 points in the green jersey competition. The reaction to the punishment has largely been in favour of the world champion with Cooke explaining he saw it as no more than a racing incident.

"You have ten blokes all rushing towards the line, I don't put the blame on anyone in particular, but you could potentially say there are five blokes who have a little bit of blame, including the race winner Demare who swerved hard to the left," he said. "I think it was just a regular sprint and bad luck in how it turned out like it did. I don't think that Sagan deserves to be relegated, let alone kicked out of the race."

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Famously put into the barriers by Paolo Bettini at the 2005 Giro d'Italia, an incident which saw the Italian disqualified, Cooke added that there was no sign of intent from Sagan in the sprint.

"When there is intent to take someone out, like when Bettini took me out years ago at the Giro he started in the middle of the road, looked down and saw me coming on the left and went all the way to the barrier. That is intentional," he said. "That is a completely different story. There is no intent here. Sagan was looking straight ahead and following the wheel of Demare. Cav also wanted Demare's wheel and being fearless, he just keeps going for the gap, but that door was closing. If we start booting sprinters out of the race for stuff like this, there isn't going to be many sprinters left after about five stages. Every single sprinter takes risks and puts other people at some sort of risk at some point."

Video replays helped the race jury overturn its original decision and disqualify Sagan. The right elbow of the Slovakian was adjusted culpable in the incident, but Cooke explained Sagan's actions were "self-perseveration".

"The way I interpret it is when you put your elbows out you are protecting your handlebars because when someone hits your handlebars, you go straight down on your arse," he said. "Sagan didn't even hit him [Cavendish] and I think he was just balancing himself. If you use your elbows, it is to make sure someone doesn't lock handlebars with you most of the time. He sensed someone coming up inside and maybe that they were going to come through and snag his handlebars, taking him out. It's self-perseveration. I actually think Cav fell off due to bouncing off Sagan's butt, not his elbow."

Open green jersey competition

With Sagan out of the race, his quest for a sixth straight green sprint jersey is also over. Sagan has dominated the competition since his 2012 debut at the Tour and was on track to again claim green and equal Erik Zabel's six wins. The competition is now wide open with Demare in the lead and one of the many contenders according to Cooke.

"It has thrown it wide open but I think they need to have a good look at the commissaires because this is just not right," he said of the battle for green, sans Sagan. "Sprinting is fearsome and you have to be quite ruthless to win and this was a regular racing incident. For the world champion to be kicked out in disgrace is not on.

"There is still a heap of really good sprinters there, so I think it is a bit rude to say it is devalued because there is still Kittel, Greipel, Bouhanni, Demare, Kristoff…" he said of the new dynamic to the classification. "There are still some really fast guys there."

It's not just the green jersey competition that has opened up following Sagan's disqualification. There is now greater opportunity for stage wins and Cooke expects the likes of Michael Matthews to cash in as a result.

"Those two are the best sprinting climbers so for sure, Michael Matthews will be licking his chops right now. He wouldn't wish this on Sagan but I know this certainly opens up the door for him," he said of the Sunweb rider. "I am not going to say all the sprinters want him gone, but it is always going to be a little bit easier to win a stage now." 

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