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Tempers continue to flare in Tour de France sprints

If the UCI commissaires wanted to send a message to the sprint teams by kicking Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) out of the Tour de France after the stage 4 melee, they might have to go back to the drawing board.

The stage 6 finish in Troyes was crash-free as Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) took his second stage win of the 2017 race ahead of Arnaud Demare (FDJ) and Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal), but the risk-taking and ensuing polemics have not eased.

As the sprinters and their lead-out men bore down on the finish line, Demare came up the right-hand side of the road along the barriers – the same position Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) was in before the stage 4 crash that sent him home with a broken scapula – and then used a nudge of his head to move Edvald Boassan Hagen over to create the space he needed to go past.

Boassan Hagen shook his head as Demare went by, and Katusha lead-out man Marco Haller threw up his right arm to protest that Demare had bumped his bars as well.

More incriminations came after the stage as tempers flared in the finishing straight and among the buses. Demare lead-out man Jacopo Guarnieri pointed the finger at Cofidis sprinter Nacer Bouhanni, whose wheel Demare had severely chopped two days before in the stage 4 finale.

"Bouhanni is an idiot," Guarnieri said in a television interview after the stage. "He didn't just pass me, he also put his knee into my bars. He's a dick, he's always making people crash. We know he's like that. He's probably upset with us because he always loses…"

Guarnieri later apologised on Twitter for the language he used in the interview, but not for the sentiment.

When media tracked down Bouhanni, he declined to respond, telling reporters they could wait for him to come back out of the bus, but he wasn't going to talk.

Bouhanni did have a response for Guarinieri on Twitter, however, suggesting Guarnieri's accusation was a case of the 'pot calling the kettle black' and telling Guarnieri to re-watch video of the stage 4 final kilometre.

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Many believe the UCI jury decided to disqualify the reigning world champion after stage 4 in part to send a message to the sprint teams that things needed to calm down, but the stage 6 polemics show the risk taking and finger pointing are still at a full boil.

John Degenkolb addressed Thursday's sprint in a post-race interview with NBC Sports, obliquely questioning Demare's decision-making but not overtly condemning his actions.

"When you see the final metres, especially the gap Demare went through there – I was too far back to see it directly – but when you see it from the top view, I think there's almost no space. It's very, very tight there. He actually moved off his line and went through a very, very small gap there.

"You have to make right decisions, and as long as everything goes OK, there's no problem, but when it ends up like me and Cav on the ground, then it's not so good," Degenkolb said, adding that Demare made a similar move in the stage 4 sprint.

Asked if he was surprised at the level of aggression in the sprint just two days after an incident that saw two of the sport's top riders exit the race, Degenkolb had a simple answer.

"I think it's the Tour de France," he said. "It's the highest level and everybody wants to be successful; everybody wants to have a victory here. It's hard to describe."

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Pat Malach
Pat Malach

Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.