Tour de France 2017 : Stage 4 – Victory in Vittel for Demare and a DQ for Sagan

Arnaud Demare took his first ever Tour de France win and his nation’s first in a sprint for eleven years. The FDJ captain powered over the line in a hectic, crash marred finale which left Mark Cavendish, John Degenkolb and Ben Swift on the tarmac and Peter Sagan – yes the World Champion – adjudged to have endangered fellow riders and disqualified from the race.  I tell you, things don’t get any more controversial!

Rider of the Race

It’s so easy to allow the drama (and my goodness we had it in buckets) to overshadow everything else that happened in the stage. Just think back to last year where the story of Mont Ventoux was all about the yellow jersey running up the slopes, and not too much about the victor’s monumental effort. However, my rider of the race isn’t the stage winner, but rather the rider who drew the short straw to make the break of day on a stage destined to end in a sprint. Stand up and take a bow Wanty Groupe Gobert’s Guillaume van Keirsbulck.

Embed from Getty Images

The team have been active in the breaks everyday, but I don’t suppose when Guillaume burst from the peloton as the flag dropped this morning he thought he’d be battling the wind solo for 191km! What an effort. I mean what do you think about for all that time, ticking off the kilometres and waiting for the inevitable catch? Perhaps day dreaming of cobbles?

The last time I wrote about him racing was a filthy day in Belgium when he took the win at GP Le Samyn, a far cry from sunshine in July. He received the most Combative rider award, the second for the team after Yoann Offredo on stage 2. Here’s what he had to say in the team report…

I said this morning that I wanted to be part of the breakaway, and that was the case. Hilaire [Team DS Ed.] told me to continue my efforts, and that others would join me in the lead. But I have not seen anyone all day, that was not ideal!

Crime and Punishment? No, it’s NEVER that clear cut is it?

Sprint finishes are a chaotic, dark world. A place where decisions are made, acted upon and reacted to in a split second. Let’s have look at today’s footage and try and pick the bones of it.

Demare’s was the wheel to follow as he surged  forward in the final metres. Cavendish was with him but as Sagan moves to right to follow the Frenchman, he closed the gap the Manxman was riding into and didn’t make things any easier by throwing his elbow up. The result of the ripple through the bunch left Cavendish crashing into the barriers and John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo)and Ben Swift (UAE-Emirates) with nowhere to go except tumbling over the top of him. Here’s the overhead view.

Neither video provides an unimpeded view, as the riders shift and disappear under trees. Was it just a racing incident that we so often see in bunch sprints? Did Sagan deliberately flick that elbow and ride in such a manner as to endanger other riders, or was he just keeping his balance as he and Cav collided? What about the other riders?  The whole bunch of them were moving about like a murmuration of starlings – including the stage winner. Everyone has their view and predictably twitter exploded into two opposite camps as the potins and rumours flew.

Sagan went directly to the Dimension Data team bus to apologise to a bruised and battered Cavendish.  Meanwhile a protest was lodged, the race jury viewed the footage and initially docked 30 seconds and 80 points in the Green Jersey competition from the World Champion. However, upon further video analysis, the jury announced that Sagan was disqualified from the race for endangering other riders. A full explanation of their decision can be read on Cycling Weekly

I don’t think I’ve ever had to write a stage report quite like this. I’m certainly no expert in the area of sprinting, but I know a man whose judgement I will defer to on all points. Let Robbie McEwen take you through it one more time.

I’m definitely with Robbie on this. Dock his green jersey points and fine him, but to throw him off the race is overly harsh. #ImWithRobbie

Robbie’s view seems to be the predominate one as pros and journalists have their say on the decision.

An excellent analysis…

Last word to Mark Cavendish…

One thing is certain, this story is going to run and run. With Sagan out and potentially Cavendish too (the team say they will make a decision in the morning regarding his shoulder) the sprints and the race will miss two of the biggest stars. No matter where you stand, I think we can all agree that it’s heart stopping watching these incidents in the finale of sprint. We know the likely outcome of  bodies connecting with solid objects at the speed the riders are travelling. We wish the riders the best and speediest of recoveries.

To the victor the spoils

We should not forget Arnaud Demare‘s historic victory today. Here’s a a great little video of FDJ team boss Marc Madiot as he yelled his rider home. It’s pure Madiot and there is no denying that passion. LOVE [Nono is Arnaud’s nickname on team].


Top 5 stage 

1 Arnaud Demare (FDJ) 04:53:54

2 Alexander Kristoff (Katusha Alpecin) same time

3 Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) s/t

4 Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) s/t

5 Adrien Petit (Direct Energie) s/t

Top 5 GC 

1 Geraint Thomas (Sky) 10:00:31

2 Chris Froome (Sky) +0:12

3 Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) same time

4 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Dimension Data) +16

5 Pierre Latour (Ag2r-La Mondiale) +25

All the jerseys

Leader: Geraint Thomas (Sky)

Points: Arnaud Demare (FDJ)

KOM: Nathan Brown (Cannondale-Drapac)

Best Young Rider: Pierre Latour (AG2R-La Mondiale)

Team Classification: Sky

Most Aggressive Rider: Guillaume van Keirsbulck  (Wanty Groupe Gobert)

For race reviews, go to CyclingNews; official LeTour website is here

Header image: Arnaud Demare  © KT/Tim De Waele/Corbis via Getty Images

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