Peter Sagan is under fire in Belgium after Sporza television revealed footage of the world champion apparently shouldering Maxime Vantomme (WB Veranclassic) out of the way and off the road during Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem.
Sagan was blocked behind other riders as Greg van Avermaet (BMC) made the attack that went onto split the peloton. Overhead footage shows Sagan moving to his left and bumping Vantomme to the left as he tried to find a way through and start his pursuit of van Avermaet.
Other footage shot from the roadside fans shows Sagan's movement more clearly. Vantomme was forced off the cobbled road and had to brake.
Highly respected Belgian journalist Karl Vannieuwkerke, who presents the television coverage of major races for Sporza, revealed the incident on the ‘Extra Time’ show on Wednesday evening.
"I'm afraid I have to launch an attack on the world. I've seen images of Sagan on the Kemmelberg where he puts Vantomme out of the pack and slams him into the (roadside) decor," Vannieuwkerke was quoted as saying on Sporza and other Flemish media.
"That's a villainous action. In my words it's deliberate by the world champion. You shouldn't do that otherwise you're inexperienced. It's a body check, like in hockey, to push him aside."
Oliver Naesen of AG2R-La Mondiale and Bram Tankink (LottoNL-Jumbo) were guest on the Extra Time show and did not approve of Sagan's move.
"I think he could have hurt a rib," Naesen said of Vantomme. "For sure. I would have pushed back."
Tankink was more critical: "Sagan is a double world champion. He wears that jersey and thinks he can pass anywhere."
Vantomme went on to finish 11th in Gent-Wevelgem. When contacted via social media about the incident, he tweeted: "That's the life of a small cyclist."
A diplomatic reaction from Sagan
Sagan's entourage and the Bora-hansgrohe team refused to be drawn on the matter when contacted by Cyclingnews.
Sagan tweeted his reaction on Thursday morning while enjoying a coffee during a training ride, saying: "I just saw the video of the contact with @MaximeVantomme at @GentWevelgem. I wasn't aware of it. I'm sorry but these things happen in races."
Sagan has come under intense pressure in Belgium after he sat up while in the decisive break at Gent-Wevelgem and took Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors) and Søren Kragh Andersen (Team Sunweb) out of the back in a moment of tactical mind games.
Sagan described Terpstra's refusal to work as a 'very cheap game', adding, "What can I do? I am not his teammate. I'm going to work for what, for Terpstra to beat me in the sprint? I could decide today who can win."
On Wednesday Quick-Step Floors directeur sportif Wilfried Peeters hit back warning Sagan about his team's tactics for Sunday's Tour of Flanders.
"We try to win… but if we don't win then he loses," Peeters told Cyclingnews with a grin, upping the ante in what is becoming a game of brinksmanship.
Sagan is hugely admired in Belgium but his ability to win the Classics divides the loyalty of the Belgian fans, who cheer for Quick-Step Floors, Lotto Soudal or individual riders such as Greg van Avermaet (BMC) and Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac).
The Flemish media is happy to report every moment of the spat between Sagan and Quick-Step Floors as the tension rises before Sunday's Tour of Flanders.