The weather hasn’t been very bad for the Tour, but there have been two spectacular crashes. Weather was related to Alejandro Valverde’s serious injuries in a rainy Stage One; the bike went out from under him on a slippery wet curve. But the crash that took out Mark Cavendish — broken shoulder again, the same one he broke a couple of years ago in a Tour stage — was a fight for space between two riders, Cavendish and Peter Sagan, during the final sprint. Cavendish is out due to his injuries. Sagan was disqualified because race video showed him throwing an elbow that race judges say contributed to his team-mate’s crash. There is controversy over the disqualification: all three commentators on NBCSports, including former Tour rider Bob Roll, sharply disagreed, saying Sagan’s arm was out to hold his balance, to keep him from becoming involved in the wreck. He was essentially penalized, in their view, for being skillful enough not to fall down.
It’s really hard in a sports competition, even with video, to discern what was happening, what was the intent of the competitor. The WNBA has a “flagrant foul” rule, which gets invoked when one player clocks another in the head, or when a player appears to intentionally and aggressively take another player down. But players collide, aggressively, when going for the ball. And arms get thrown when a player is trying to keep her balance. Flailing arms can hit a competitor anywhere, including in the head.
In the Tour, a rider is entitled to hold his line. Cavendish came up to the right of Sagan, between Sagan and the metal race barrier. Bob Rolle thought there clearly wasn’t enough space for Cavendish to get through, and Sagan did not have to cede him a path. In any case, pedaling furiously at close to 50m.p.h., Cavendish went into the barrier and then down, hard. Two riders went right over him — wheels separated by inches and going at high speed, there was simply no room or time to divert. Other riders went down. Sagan finished, although another rider, Arnaud DeMare, won the stage.
Cavendish is a popular rider, as is Sagan — both have won multiple Tour honors although neither is the overall rider who can win the yellow jersey at the end. Apparently they are professionally friendly — no one thinks Sagan intentionally took Cavendish down. I certainly saw the elbow go out on later video of the crash. Did Sagan try to push Cavendish out of the way and unintentionally into the barrier? Or, did Sagan try desperately to balance when under threat from riders on both the right and the left? The race officials have the final say, and Sagan is disqualified from the 2017 Tour.