On an otherwise sleepy day at the Tour de France, where Marcel Kittel's dominance of the bunch sprints continued, things were livened up somewhat by the emergence of video footage showing an altercation between Nacer Bouhanni and Jack Bauer. Bouhanni was soon fined CHF200 and docked one minute for swinging his arm at Kittel's teammate. The morning after, however, both parties were keen to play down any sense of rising controversy.
Bouhanni would not talk about the incident in Eymet ahead of stage 11, with Cofidis manager Yvon Sanquer instead sent out to deal with questions from the media.
"First of all you have to respect the decision of the commissaires," he began, though it soon became clear he did not consider his rider the only guilty party.
"You have to watch the six-second video, and look really closely at the first two seconds of it in order to have the complete picture," he told Cyclingnews.
Indeed, as the incident – as is customary these days – was spliced up into looping videos, what caught the eye was Bouhanni's right arms leaving his bars to lash out sideways at Bauer, though it would appear that the Quick-Step Floors rider had already given the Frenchman a nudge of his own.
"It's always easy on Twitter and what not, to cut videos, and see what you want to see, and then add your own comments." Despite the refusal to face the media, Sanquer said that the incident – the latest in a long line of indiscretions for his big money rider – had "not really affected" Bouhanni and that, with a stage win to fight for, "there's no energy to lose on these things."
In any case, despite some suggesting Bouhanni should have been ejected from the race, he didn't see the incident as anything out of the ordinary, and certainly nothing worthy of punishment and polemic.
"If you take the last 20 kilometres on all flat stages, this type of situation happens 30 or 40 times,” he argued. “So for me, it's giving a lot of importance to something that doesn't merit it."
Bauer: This isn't a charity ride
Over at the Quick-Step Floors bus, Jack Bauer perhaps aware of the question marks circling over his own actions, also looked to draw a line under the whole affair.
He said he hadn't spoken with Bouhanni about it but had no hard feelings, agreeing with Sanquer that these things are part and parcel of high-stakes sprint finishes.
"It was a bike race, we were in the final seven kilometres of a bunch sprint, people push and shove and look to create space and positions for the sprinters. Bouhanni was obviously looking for space. I was looking for space for Marcel. There was a little bit of contact there but there was no incident in my eyes," he said.
"People will see a lot of things on film and make a lot of assumptions from their own couch-sides and in their own minds. If you were on a bike in the middle of the bunch, contact like that is very normal. I'm not saying that taking your hands off the bars and making physical contact is normal, but things like that happen in a race. You can see on footage I put it behind me the second it occurred and refocused on the sprint and the job in hand. As far as I'm concerned that's what we're here to do, to win races, and not to make pithy comments or annoyances in the bunch."
Bauer argued that the decision of the jury should be respected but he personally didn’t feel Bouhanni should have been punished.
"I didn't expect a penalty at all. As I said, I don't think there was an incident out there that needed any repercussion. It's not a Grand Fondo, it's not a charity ride, it's the Tour de France, it's a high stakes, fast, aggressive sprint finale.
"I come into stages like that expecting aggression from other riders and rival teams, especially rival teams that are under pressure to win. Marcel is the dominant sprinter at the moment, I think that puts the other rival sprinters under a lot of pressure to perform, and I guess under those circumstances you can expect a little aggression.”
With both parties happy to move on, with another sprint showdown expected in Pau later in the afternoon, Bauer did land one verbal blow on Bouhanni.
"I understand Bouhanni needs to win, Cofidis needs to win, it's obvious that he'll be aggressive and doing what he can to beat Marcel, but unfortunately at this Tour de France it's not going to happen."
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