The green jersey sits ever more securely on Peter Sagan's shoulders on Friday evening after Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) was docked 30 points when he was adjudged to have impeded the Liquigas-Cannondale rider in the bunch sprint for sixth place on stage 12 of the Tour de France.
After finishing three places ahead of Sagan in the intermediate sprint at Marcilloles, Goss had appeared set to cut his deficit in the points classification to 22 points but instead sees that gap stretch out to a hefty 56 as commissaires deemed him guilty of changing his line in the sprint and placing his colleagues in danger.
Although Goss won the sprint in Annonay, he deviated from his line in the final 100 metres, with a visibly aggrieved Sagan raising an arm in protest. The commissaires agreed with the young Slovak's interpretation of events and duly awarded him sixth place ahead of Goss. Indeed, Goss would have been relegated lower than seventh place had the judges not ruled that there was a one-second gap between the pair and the remainder of the peloton.
Speaking to reporters after he emerged from the Orica-GreenEdge bus shortly after the finish line, Goss had been informed that he would be relegated but was not yet aware of his 30-point penalty. He acknowledged that he had veered slightly from his line in the sprint, but felt that he did not deserve to be punished for an infraction, and instead felt that Sagan's reaction had exaggerated the incident to such an extent that the commissaires were alerted to take action.
"You guys be the judge," he said. "Look, I definitely moved, but I don't think I stopped his sprint at all. It was a bit of a combination - he had come into my wheel as I was moving left and most of the movement came from him trying to miss the wheel and then over-exaggerating. But I don't have to worry about it. The decision's been made."
A disappointed Goss wondered if the judges had paid too much attention to the overhead shot of the sprint, which he claimed provided a deceptive image of what had taken place. "It probably made it look a little worse than it probably was but if you look at it from the front angle it doesn't look all that close," he said. "It's just the overhead shot that's made it look a little bit worse."
As he spoke to reporters, Goss was under the impression that he had been relegated to the very back of the peloton, although the timekeepers subsequently confirmed his sense that it had been a two-man sprint for sixth place.
"I don't think there were any others really in the sprint, so I shouldn't be at the back of the peloton, but they are the rules and I don't make them," Goss said.
That Goss was relegated only to seventh place will only slightly soften the impact of his points deduction, and in any case, he was appears increasingly aware that he faces a Herculean task to dispossess Sagan, who holds such a commanding lead in the classification.
"I lost a lot of points," Goss said. "It's disappointing because there was a lot of hard work from the guys for me today, they rode a lot on the front. We got points in the intermediate but not in the end, and that's why it's disappointing."
As he drifted through the mixed zone after descending from the podium, Peter Sagan explained his visible annoyance at the finish line. "It was incorrect sprint," he said. "When I'm beaten normally, I can be angry but I keep it inside me. But when it's an incorrect sprint, it comes out."
Informed that Goss had been relegated, Sagan shrugged his shoulders. In spite of his tender years, Sagan is more than versed in the laws of the sprint jungle. "I heard that he was disqualified, but it's not my fault," he shrugged.