Mark Cavendish may have claimed his third win of this year’s Tour de France in Bourg-les-Valence this afternoon to move back into contention in the points competition, but after his 13th career stage victory, Lady Luck – or rather, the race commissaries – immediately dealt him a card that severely weakens his hand by kicking his HTC-Columbia team-mate and lead-out man Mark Renshaw out of the race.
The Australian’s disqualification, for head-butting Julian Dean of Garmin-Transitions and then forcing the same team’s Tyler Farrar towards the barriers as today’s sprint finish reached its climax is a huge blow to Cavendish’s already outside hopes of winning the green jersey.
Indeed, with the HTC-Columbia train perhaps not as dominant as it was last year in last year’s race, partly as a result of George Hincapie’s move to BMC Racing, Cavendish has relied on Renshaw’s strength to find the right line and put him in the right place to launch his attacks. His absence will be acutely felt.
If you haven’t already seen the incident, you can watch it below – things get interesting not long after the 4-minute mark.
Shortly after the end of today’s stage, race official Jean-Francois Pescheux said: "Renshaw was declassified immediately but we have decided to also throw him off the race. We've only seen the pictures once, but his actions are plain for all to see. This is a bike race, not a gladiator's arena."
In a statement this evening, Renshaw said: I'm extremely disappointed and also surprised at this decision. I never imagined I would be removed from any race especially the Tour de France. I pride myself on being a very fair, safe and a straight up sprinter and never in my career have I received a fine or even a warning.”
The Australian continued: "Julian [Dean] came hard in on my position with his elbows. I needed to use my head to retain balance or there would have been a crash. If had used my elbows when Julian brought his elbow on top of mine we would also have crashed. The object was to hold my line and stay upright.”
He added: "I hadn't started the sprint yet. We were still at 375m to go. After that Cavendish had to start his sprint early and I was also ready to finish off the sprint as I still had a lot left in my legs.”
However, it is the second incident, when he appeared to move across Tyler Farrar’s line, forcing the Garmin-Transitions rider to brake to hold out an arm to fend off Renshaw and avoid being pushed into the railings, that many view as the more serious incident.
"It would have been good to try to take some more points. I only saw open space on my left. I had no idea Tyler Farrar was there,” explained Renshaw. “By no means would I ever put any of my fellow riders in danger."
The fact is though, that going by the video, the HTC-Columbia rider had no need to deviate from his line – and he appears to look across towards Farrar before slamming the door shut on him to prevent the Garmin-Transitions man from following Cavendish’s wheel.
That leaves Garmin Transitions still searching for their first win of this year’s Tour, after coming close with David Millar third place in the Prologue in Rotterdam, and with Dean and Farrar both placing second in sprints last week.
Those last two results followed a difficult few days for Jonathan Vaughters’ outfit, with Farrar coming to grief on Stage 1 in Brussels when his rear mech got entangled in an AG2R rider’s bike when he was set to go for a Fourth of July victory. Farrar was then relegated to a supporting role to Dean after breaking his wrist on Stage 2, a day on which team leader Christian Vande Velde was forced to abandon the Tour with broken ribs.
Afterwards, Julian Dean, who rode with Renshaw at Credit Agricole in 2006 and 2007, was quoted by AFP as saying: “All the other [HTC-Columbia] guys were fine, it was just Renshaw’s behaviour that was inappropriate.”
The New Zealander continued: “I jumped my front wheel in Cav’s wheel. I went past Renshaw and tried to keep the speed high and while I was coming out of Renshaw, he didn’t seem to like it too much.”
He added: “I didn’t make any movement at all. Next thing I felt like he was leaning on me and hitting me with his head. And then he carried on afterwards and came across on Tyler’s line and stopped Tyler from possibly winning the stage. He shouldn’t have done that. It’s not appropriate.”
Dean concluded: “It’s dangerous behavior and if there had been a crash there it would have caused some guys some serious damage. What we do is very dangerous and we don’t need behavior like that to make it even more dangerous.”
For his part stage winner Mark Cavendish said he couldn’t work out the rationale for Renshaw’s disqualification. “I can’t understand why the commissaires made the decision,” said the Manxman. “It’s against what we as a team believe happened. We’ll just have to see what happens. I’m very sad.”
He continued: “We came around the last corner in good position. Julian Dean came around on the right, and hooked his left elbow over Mark’s right elbow. Mark used his head to get a bit of space, which kept everybody upright.”
Renshaw's absence will seriously weaken Cavendish in the three remaining potential sprints in Revel on Saturday, Bordeaux next Friday and on the Champs-Elysées. It already seemed certain that he would have to win those sprints to keep any hope of victory in the green jersey competition alive, tonight the jersey rests on the shoulders of Alessandro Petacchi who came second on today's stage.
Now for the second year running, after himself been stripped of his win in Stage 14 last year after being adjudged to have pushed Thor Hushovd into the barriers, it’s the race judges that have once again delivered the final blow.
So what do you think? Did Renshaw's head-butting of dean and apparent move across Farrar's line warrant his being thrown out of the race? Or should the judges have given him the benefit of the doubt?
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.