Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) was brought down in a high-speed crash in the finishing straight of stage 4 of the Tour de France in Vittel after he was shut in against the barriers by Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe).
Cavendish attempted to squeeze through the narrowing gap between Sagan and the barriers, only for the world champion to stick out his elbow, blocking his path. Cavendish fell against the barriers, and as he lay on the ground, he was then struck by the following John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) and Ben Swift (UAE Emirates). Both Degenkolb and Swift also came down in the incident.
After reviewing video footage of the sprint, UCI race commissaires initially relegated Sagan to last place in the group he was in, and so he finished in 115th place on the stage. The relegation will affect his hopes of winning a sixth green points jersey, as he was docked 80 points in the classification, reducing his points total to 15. Sagan was also docked 30 seconds in the general classification.
Almost two hours after the stage finish, however, the commissaires called a press conference in which they announced that Sagan had been disqualified from the Tour de France altogether. They arrived at the decision after repeated viewings of the crash in the finishing straight.
As well as picking up abrasions and bruises, Cavendish appeared to sustain hand and shoulder injuries, but their full extent is not yet clear. After lying prone on the ground, Cavendish was able to cross the finish line, but was due to undergo x-rays after the stage.
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Cavendish left the Dimension Data team bus with his arm in a sling, and was pessimistic about his prospects of continuing in the Tour.
"Injury-wise I'm going to go and get it checked out," Cavendish said. "I will definitely need stitches in this finger, it's bleeding a lot. With the shoulder, it might be something to do with a previous injury, it's sat backwards so I'm not sure if I've done something to the ligament. I'm not a doctor but from the feelings I'm not optimistic."
Sagan crossed the line in second place on the stage behind Arnaud Démare (FDJ), and visited the Dimension Data bus immediately after the stage to pass on his apologies to Cavendish's teammates. Cavendish had not yet reached the bus by that point, and he said that he wished to speak with Sagan personally and ask him to explain his flick of the elbow.
"I get on with Peter well but I don't get it... if he came across it's one thing, but the elbow... I'm not a fan of him putting his elbow in like that. I get on with Peter, a crash is a crash, but I'd just like to know about the elbow," Cavendish said.
Sagan spoke briefly to reporters after the stage to explain his actions in the sprint. "Mark was coming pretty fast from the back," Sagan said. "I didn't have time to react and go left and he just came to me and after into the fence."
The finale of the stage had been a tense one, and yellow jersey Geraint Thomas and his Sky teammate Chris Froome were among the riders held up in a crash on the approach to the finish. Neither man picked up any injuries in the incident, nor did they lose time as it took place inside the final three kilometres. Thomas remains the overall leader ahead of stage 5, with Froome second overall, 12 seconds down.
The blame game
Sagan's manoeuvre had drawn criticism from both Dimension Data directeur sportif Roger Hammond and from Lotto Soudal manager Marc Sergeant immediately after the stage. Hammond spoke with the race commissaires after the stage and asked them to review the footage, a request which seems to have led to Sagan's disqualification from the Tour.
"I wasn't here, we were in the convoy, and I've just been on the bus to check on Mark's condition," Hammond said when told that Sagan had visited the bus to apologise for the crash. "I'm not sure what conversation they've had, but if I was Sagan, I'd apologise for that."
Sergeant said that he had spoken with his sprinter André Greipel, who placed 4th on the stage, and the German had told him that Sagan had already irritated his fellow sprinters with his riding in Monday's intermediate sprint.
"I asked André. He was quite pissed by the attitude of Sagan, making some moves which he shouldn't make. Yesterday it was the same thing in the intermediate sprint, he gave an elbow to André and he was a little bit pissed yesterday already. Twice in a row is too much," Sergeant told Eurosport.
"Greipel was saying, 'He isn't my friend anymore from now on.' That was 20 metres past the finish line."
From Wednesday, Sagan will no longer be on the Tour, and, for the first time since 2011, he will not carry the green jersey to Paris.