Tuesday 26 September 2017

Nicolas Roche: Unable to stop, Degenkolb rode across Mark Cavendish's face

Tour de France Diary - Tuesday July 4, Stage 4: Mondorf-les-Bains to Vittel, (208km)

Germany's John Degenkolb, left, and Britain's Mark Cavendish crash. Image: AP Photo/Christophe Ena
Germany's John Degenkolb, left, and Britain's Mark Cavendish crash. Image: AP Photo/Christophe Ena

Nicolas Roche

With the first summit finish of this year's Tour coming tomorrow and a flat stage ahead of us today, you could have put your house on things ending in a bunch sprint so this morning not many were excited by the prospect of a long day in a breakaway that would almost certainly be closed down before the finish.

In fact Guillaume Van Keirsbulck of Wanty-Groubert was the only taker when the flag dropped.

After Van Keirsbulck went away, the sprint teams let him build up a lead of 13 minutes before cruelly closing him down, so we had about an hour where we got to relax a little bit, which rarely happens on the Tour any more.

Years ago, the smaller teams would always send men into the early breakaway to get some valuable airtime for their sponsors but not today.

As we rolled along in the sun, I spoke to a rider from second division French team Fortuneo -Oscaro who were invited to the Tour as a wild card team, and asked him why they had nobody in the break today.

"There's no point going in the break today and killing ourselves when it's going to be a bunch sprint," he answered. "At least if we take it easy today we'll be fresh enough to try getting up the road later in the week - when we have a proper chance of staying away to contest the stage win."

In fairness, he had a point. Personally, I think a boring flat day of 208km doesn't look good on television and if today had been cut in half, it might have enticed a few attacks which would be a lot better for both riders and fans.

When the gap went out to 12 minutes I called the rest of the guys back up to the front, as I reckoned something had to kick off.

A couple of kilometres later Quickstep and Lotto started chasing, the pace increased dramatically and we began to eat into the lone leader's advantage.

With Van Keirsbulck in sight with 10km to go there was a huge amount of movement, pushing and shoving at the front and I could almost feel a crash coming on.

Having drifted back out of the way in the final kilometres to save my legs a little before tomorrow's first mountain stage, I rounded a corner with 600m to go to find the whole road blocked with bikes and bodies and spotted the yellow jersey of race leader Geraint Thomas among a host of riders that had crashed on the corner.

As I went around them and headed to the finish, the medical staff were running towards a second crash involving Mark Cavendish, John Degenkolb and Ben Swift who were all in various states of distress on the tarmac 300m further up the road.

I didn't get to the see what happened until we reached our hotel just a few minutes ago, where French TV keeps showing replays of the incident.

In the final sprint to the line, world champion Peter Sagan appears to have cut Cavendish off by sticking out his right elbow, sending the Manxman hurtling into the barriers. Cavendish then bounced back into the road where he brought down Swift and Degenkolb - who had nowhere to go and ended up riding across Cav's face before spectacularly somersaulting onto the ground.

You could see how fast they were travelling by how far Degenkolb landed away from Cav and both of them looked pretty bad, so I hope they're all okay.

Dangerous

Big bunch sprints are always a dangerous place to be and a split-second decision can either win you a stage or end your Tour.

It looked like a bad move by Sagan but I'm not sure whether there was any malice on his part or if Cav was just trying to get through a very tight gap. The only ones that know that are the two of them.

Initially, Sagan was relegated to last in the group and penalised 30 seconds, which doesn't make any difference at all to somebody who isn't going for overall victory. Tomorrow's summit finish would have seen him lose minutes rather than seconds but even after that he would still have been up there in the race for the green points jersey.

Just a few minutes ago though, race commissaires decided to throw Sagan off the Tour entirely, which seems a bit harsh to me.

Maybe as well as losing all points from today, docking him some extra points instead of time would have hit him hard enough.

I suppose it all depends on your point of view and whether you think he did it deliberately or not.

Again, only he knows that.

Thankfully our team got through today unscathed and we can concentrate on tomorrow's tough mountain top finish now.

Tour de France, Stage 5, Live Eurosport, TG4 and ITV4, from 11.0

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