Despite winning Sunday's uphill sprint to Cherbourg on Sunday, Peter Sagan lamented that many riders at the Tour de France had "lost their brains" and were taking too many risks, especially in the finales of stages. Dimension Data's Bernhard Eisel, one of the most experienced riders in the race and one of the senators in the peloton, agrees with the world champion, telling Cyclingnews on Monday that the situation "is just getting ridiculous".
Sagan finished third on stage 1 to Utah Beach and won Sunday's stage 2 on the climb above Cherbourg, pulling on the yellow jersey, but he took time to explain how a lack of respect amongst teams and riders has raised the risk of crashes.
"When I did my first Tour de France it was a different race. Now everyone rides as if they don't care about life. It's as if they lost their brains. I don't know what has happened," Sagan said. "There are stupid crashes in the group. Before there was respect; when some did something, they threw bottles at him or beat him with a pump, but cycling has lost this."
Eisel believes that the Tour de France has become polarised, with teams targeting the sprint victories now clashing with the teams trying to protect their overall classification leader.
In recent years teams have changed tactics for the finales of stages. Now they wait for the final 50km and then line out in formation to protect their team captains, with several teams often going shoulder to shoulder across the road, blocking other teams from moving to the front. Team Sky, BMC, Movistar and FDJ all mix it with sprint teams such as Etixx-QuickStep, Dimension Data and Lotto Soudal in the final kilometres of the flat stages to protect team leaders Chris Froome, Tejay van Garderen, Richie Porte and Nairo Quintana.
The sprinters' teams have another strategy. They need to gradually chase down the break of the day and then lead out their sprinters in the final five kilometres. The two strategies are very different and are creating tension between the teams.
"Yesterday we saw the new version of modern stage racing and it's just getting ridiculous. I had to fight riders to get to the front to ride yesterday," Eisel explained to Cyclingnews, mixing sarcasm with anger.
"If it's going to be like that then let's have two different races in a Grand Tour. Let's have ten stages for the sprinters and then we can go home and they can bring in the mountain team.
"It seems that people are actually happy to ride in the final just so their captain can get sixth and stay upright. If a sponsor puts in 20 million Euro and then is happy that their captain just makes it to the finish each day, rather than the team trying to win the stage, then it's getting ridiculous."
Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) almost stayed away to win stage 2 after the peloton failed to work together and chase consistently in the final 30km of the stage. Eisel explained that that occurred because the peloton eased and waited for Alberto Contador after his crash but then teams refused to work in the chase, preferring to save their riders for the finish rather than help with the chase.
"We waited for Alberto Contador and the other riders after his crash and we lost two minutes on the break by waiting. But then nobody would ride with us to chase the break," Eisel said, shaking his head.
"I asked a few teams to help with the chase but they all said no, they all wanted to wait for the finale, to protect their leaders. I also spoke to Sagan but he didn’t want to ride either. Then in the finale I had to latterly fight my way to the front just so that I could ride. That’s crazy."
Eisel struggled to find a solution to the clash between the GC and sprinter teams.
"There is still some respect between the riders but the strategies have gone crazy. There isn't a solution but it's about understanding that we all ride on the same piece of road and that we've got to help each other and perhaps join forces, even if we often have different goals."