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Road Cycling

Comment | The Tour de France Have Shot Themselves in the Foot by Disqualifying Peter Sagan

The Tour has just set a dangerous precedent and lost some serious entertainment value

Whether you think the commissaries were right or wrong to chuck Peter Sagan out of the Tour de France, one thing is for sure – the race is going to suffer as a result.

Let’s just look at the facts of this – Mark Cavendish, one of the most famous and divisive riders in the Tour, is now out of action, having been forced to withdraw with injury. This already makes the contest less interesting for a whole lot of mainstream, particularly British, viewers.

And in reaction to this, the UCI have then decided to chuck out Peter Sagan as a result, the superstar and World Champion of road cycling and arguably the most famous and most entertaining rider in the sport?

Obviously we understand that these decisions need to be based on the severity of the offensive incident rather than the impact on the the race as a whole, but household names are leaving the Tour de France like it’s going out of fashion, and given that the Sagan disqualification is controversial at best (and sets a disastrous precedent at worst) it seems like a particularly baffling decision.

Nearly every former professional rider outside of Cavendish’s direct team, are in agreement that docking Sagan time and points would have been an appropriate punishment, and that the eventual full disqualification is just way too harsh. The look on Mark Cavendish’s face when he found out the news of the DQ in front of the world’s media suggested he was surprised by the judgement as well.

Without Sagan, and without the narrative of him chasing down Erik Zabel’s record six-straight green jerseys, the mainstream viewer will have a lot less to go on when they’re watching the race for the green jersey.

 

It’ll be no rarity for anyone who follows the sport religiously to be asked: “Could Mark Cavendish or Peter Sagan win this?” while watching the Tour with their mates.

People like watching history unfold. People like being able to say they watched the man who fought hard and come out the other side. People like watching names they know and charismatic characters.

People do not like watching a competition which deprives someone the chance to fight for those records through controversial, behind-the-scenes rulings.

There’s a good chance that if you asked any once-a-year, only-tunes-in-for-the-Tour-de-France viewer who is going to win the green jersey now, they might be able to tell you Marcel Kittel’s name and not much more after that. Hence, removing a lot of interest for the regular viewer in the points classification.

Of course, for the passionate road cyclist, it’s great news for the green jersey race (depending on your views on Sagan and the cruel removal of his chance at the record). Normally the jersey is wrapped up by the Slovakian well before the end of the race, but now we’ve got a competition on our hands.

Sprints are always going to be exciting no matter who is in them, and with Kittel, Greipel, Bouhanni, Demare and Kristoff, they will certainly remain so. But Sagan adds so much to the Tour that nobody else in the peloton is able to provide – that cheeky smile, the hilarious interviews, the wheelies, the funny faces he pulls and the sheer brilliance of his riding.

The man literally unclipped while riding uphill on the final 200m of the sprint on stage three of the race and still managed to clip back in and win the stage. When asked about the unclipping after, and if he thought his chances were gone when it happened he replied: “maybe I meant it!” and laughed it off.

He’s exactly the ambassador cycling needs in a day and age when road rage has made hatred for cyclists a national sport and lycra-clad weekend warriors are subject to a humourless stereotype.

He’s the kind of guy who can pull in crowds and viewers who would other wise wave away the idea of watching five and a half hours of racing each day. He’s a name that people cheer for. That they watch out for. That they tell their friends and family about and look for in the peloton in every over hand shot. He’s the guy your kids want to be when they’re older and who they imitate on the family ride.

And now they’ve chucked him out, where does that leave the Tour this year? And where that does that leave sprinting?

Sprinting for stage wins is always mayhem. It’s dangerous. It’s unpredictable. A flurry of videos of Mark Cavendish elbowing folk out the way have flown across the internet since the announcement about Sagan. Are the authorities now going to DQ sprinters every time someone goes down or sticks out an elbow in the final few hundred metres? It’s a dangerous precedent.

More than that though, it’s the tragic loss of the most colourful character in road cycling from the Tour, and the removal of a record-breaking narrative that could have attracted a whole lot of viewers to tune in – and stay tuned in – to the sport.

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