John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) has escaped initial punishment for venting his anger against Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) just after the finish line of stage 16 at the Tour de France, but Cyclingnews understands he could still be penalised on Wednesday following supplementary investigations by the UCI race commissaires.
Degenkolb and Matthews sprinted shoulder to shoulder in the finishing straight in Romans-sur-Isere. Matthews won the sprint, with Degenkolb finishing third behind Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data). However, the German was angry because he believed Matthews had squeezed him into the barriers.
Degenkolb reportedly grabbed Matthews by the neck and shouted at him as the three slowed beyond the finish line.
"We were waiting for the official result and he grabbed me on the way past," Matthews said after the stage. "The officials saw that. I'm not sure what they're going to do about it but I don't think it's very sportsman like."
Degenkolb admitted that he was angry about the sprint.
"It was just in the heat of the situation. You are obviously very angry if you cannot go for the victory. If you know you have the legs to overtake him, that's very disappointing," he said immediately after the sprint.
"For me it's very clear. You see he is going off his line into my line. You can see it on television."
The UCI race commissaires ruled that Matthews had not damaged Degenkolb's sprint, with their official communiqué only listing the frequent fines for minor offences during the stage. They quickly left for their hotel and were no longer in the race permanence when Cyclingnews searched for them.
Race director Thierry Gouvenou explained that chief commissaire Philippe Marien had spoken to Degenkolb after the stage and would speak to him again before the start of Wednesday's stage before making any final decision about a possible punishment.
The UCI commissaires have come under fire for a series of decision so far in this year's Tour de France, including the disqualification of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) for sparking a crash that saw Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) fracture his shoulder. Sagan lamented on Monday that the race judges had never wanted to hear his version of events.
In contrast to the Sagan ruling, Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) was only given a minor penalty for swapping blows with Jack Bauer (Quick-Step Floors) in the final kilometres of stage 10.
The race commissaires came under fire after they were forced to backtrack on a decision to penalise Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) and George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) 20 seconds in the overall classification after stage 12 for illegal feeding. Roman Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) was also seen taking a drink in the final kilometres, and the judges decided to scrap the 20-second penalty due to the difficulty for teams to feed riders from team cars during the final kilometres of the stage.
It seems they are going to take their time before any final decision on Degenkolb, who was convinced that Matthews had closed the door on him in the sprint to the line after fighting for position in the late curves.
"I was on his wheel and I was in the perfect position to launch the sprint at 200 metres, and I started the sprint," Degenkolb argued post-stage.
"Clearly I came with more speed than him from his wheel, and he saw me on the right side and closed the gap on the right side. That made me stop the sprint to sprint for the victory."
For his part, Matthews was more focused on celebrating his second stage victory in this Tour de France and reducing the gap on Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) in the points competition. He has a total of 344 points, with Kittel closer than ever on 373 points.
"I did my sprint and I think it was a clean sprint. I didn't do anything wrong, but obviously he saw it in a different way," Matthews said.
"That's up to him. I didn't see it from his angle, but if I did something wrong the officials would say something. I obviously didn't do anything wrong. I started my sprint off Greg Van Avermaet and sprinted in a straight line. I didn't change my line," Matthews said.
Trek-Segafredo did not file an official protest and accepted that Matthews had won the stage.
"You can see that he had room," said team manager Luca Guercilena. "But when you ride at over 60km/h even with a small move you easily feel the risk that it will put you into the barriers. But I think it is up to the Jury to make a decision, and they decided it was okay."
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