It wouldn’t be the Tour de France if there wasn’t at least one ridiculous controversy to spring up during the race.
It’s nice to see that the organizers have jumped in early and needlessly stripped sprinters Mark Cavendish and Thor Hushovd of their points after the intermediate sprint on Stage 3.
According to the BBC’s website, Hushovd and Cavendish were stripped on their points for bumping into each other as they rounded a bend just before the finish line.
Overhead video shows Hushovd moving over to squeeze Cavendish to the left of the road and almost into the gutter. Cavendish responded by leaning back on Hushovd and pushing him away with his head.
It is the sort of thing that goes on in every sprint, but for some reason, the commissaries have decided to take a dim view of it.
Cavendish tweeted, "Just discovered Thor & I have been disqualified from the intermediate sprint today. Seriously no idea why?"
Hushovd was equally mystified and said in an interview with the BBC, "It's true we rubbed shoulders, but it's part of the race."
In a move that gives some indication of the character of the man, Hushovd apparently volunteered to accept sole responsibility for the incident as it was precipitated by him moving off line.
The commissaries did not feel inclined to take up his offer.
Sprinting in stage races is no place for the faint-hearted. It is a physical sport, and if riders don’t protect themselves or their line they will not win.
Worse still, hesitation results in crashes which, at those speeds, is going to bring down a lot of riders and cause some serious injuries.
When you are expending that much energy, there is not sufficient oxygen to hold a conversation. An elbow or gentle caress with the helmet is a sprinter’s way of saying, “Excuse me, you appear to be encroaching on my personal space” or words to that effect.
Comparisons will be made to the incident from the 2010 Tour, when Mark Renshaw—Cavendish’s lead out man—was sent home for head-butting Julian Dean—lead out man for Tyler Farrar.
In that incident, Dean appeared to try to force Renshaw toward the barriers, by continually moving across on Renshaw. That tactic was designed not only to slow Renshaw down to avoid a crash but also blocked the way for Cavendish to come through to finish the sprint.
Renshaw responded by leaning back on Dean but also threw three headbutts at him as well. It is that action that attracted the attention of the referees and has resulted in Renshaw being ousted from the Tour.
The Cavendish-Hushovd incident was nowhere near as serious as last year’s effort. Cavendish pushed with his helmet, nothing more. The stripping of points seems to be a little draconian.
To add insult to injury, Cavendish’s run to the finish line was seriously impeded by Romain Feillu, wrecking the Brit’s run at the line and costing him any chance of claiming a stage victory which ultimately went to fierce rival Farrar.
While there are lots more points on offer, each missed opportunity makes the job of securing Cavendish’s first green jersey that much more difficult.
Cavendish is in danger of becoming cycling’s version of Lewis Hamilton with controversy never too far away. There is no doubt that he’s the fastest man in cycling and it would be a real shame if he didn’t claim the sprinter’s ultimate prize to prove it.