A day that should have ended with Mark Cavendish and his HTC-Columbia team ecstatic after the Manxman claimed his third bunch sprint victory in succession had much of its gloss taken off it when lead-out man Mark Renshaw was ejected from the race. Informed in the middle of TV interview just after he had come off the podium that the commissaire's decision had been made official, Cavendish responded: "It's always us, isn't it? There were two guys fighting the other day. I can't really make a comment."
Noticing Tour route director Jean-François Pescheux passing by, Cavendish attempted to defend Renshaw, but Pescheux refused to be swayed. "No, no, no, no, no," said Pescheux after imitating Renshaw's head butt action.
From there Cavendish moved on to face the press, and it was immediately clear that his post-stage euphoria had gone. Asked straight off about the commissaire's decision to throw Renshaw out of the Tour, he responded: "I understand the commissaires have made their decision. It's against what we as a team believed happened. So we'll just have to see how the situation evolves. It's very sad."
Asked about his 13th Tour stage victory, which took him past HTC-Columbia coach Erik Zabel's tally of 12 sprint wins, Cavendish said simply: "We're really happy with the win, the team did a great job." Pressed for his thoughts about the green jersey, where his deficit is now 29 points to new leader Alessandro Petacchi, the Briton said: "There are still two, possibly three sprint days left. We'll see how it goes. Hopefully we can get some more wins and see what happens."
Cavendish then described his view of the final stages of the run into Bourg-lès-Valence. "We came around the last corner in a good position. Bernie [Eisel] went to lead out and Mark was on his wheel, and Julian Dean came around on the right and put his elbow from the left over Mark's right. Mark used his head to get away. There's a risk when your elbow's that close that you could end up in a tangle and that puts everybody behind in danger. And Mark gave us a bit of space, which kept everybody behind upright."
Asked whether he thought it was a regular sprint, Cavendish responded: "Effectively it's the commissaires who decide. It's a decision we don't necessarily agree with. We don't necessarily believe the same, but we'll see what happens."
Should action have been taken against Dean as well, he was then asked? "The commissaires have made their decision," was all he would say.
Finally, he was asked whether his lack of agreement with the commissaires' decision meant that he thought it was alright to head butt people in a bunch sprint. Now visibly annoyed, Cavendish countered: "I didn't say that. I didn't say that I don't agree. If you listen to your tape I didn't say that. I said that the commissaires have made a decision. We think a bit different, but we'll see what happens. I did not say I disagree with the commissaires."
With that Cavendish was gone, but the fallout from today's bunch sprint is not likely to disappear as quickly, with some in the press room recalling another occasion a rider had been penalised for a head butt in a Tour sprint. Back in 1997, and by strange coincidence, Erik Zabel was moved from first to last place having aimed a head butt at Frédéric Moncassin. Zabel, though, stayed in the race…
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).