World champion Peter Sagan is out of the Tour de France after accepting his disqualification for racing dangerously, with the race favourites set for their first mountain battle.
The 27-year-old Slovak had been hoping for a last minute reprieve after his Bora team appealed against his sanction for having elbowed Mark Cavendish into the barriers during the sprint finish to Tuesday’s fourth stage.
But on Wednesday morning, Sagan admitted defeat in his bid to ride on.
“I can only accept the decision of the jury, but I disagree. I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong in the sprint,” said Sagan.
Cavendish was taken to hospital after the crash where he was diagnosed with a broken shoulder blade, forcing him out of the Tour.
Sagan had elbowed him into the barriers during a muscular sprint finish, with the race commission later deciding to expel the Bora rider for having “endangered some of his colleagues seriously”.
Bora reacted late on Tuesday saying they had appealed the decision and asked that Sagan be reinstated, although that scenario was always unlikely.
“In the sprint I didn’t know that Mark Cavendish was behind me,” protested Sagan. “Mark was coming really fast from the back and I just didn’t have time to react and to go left. “He came into me and he went into the fence.”
For his part, Cavendish said he found Sagan’s elbow inexplicable.
“I was a little bit confused with the elbow, that’s something I’d like to speak to him about,” said the 32-year-old winner of 30 Tour stages.
“I’m obviously massively disappointed to get this news about the fracture,” said Cavendish.
As for Wednesday’s 160.5km fifth stage from Vittel to La Planche des Belles Filles, it has reigning champion Chris Froome licking his lips in anticipation.
It was there in 2012 that he won his first ever stage on the Tour, when he went on to finish second overall to British compatriot and Sky team-mate Bradley Wiggins.
“It was a really memorable victory for me,” said Froome, a three-time Tor winner since. “I’m certainly looking forward to going back there.”
According to Australia’s 2011 Tour winner Cadel Evans, this stage will give a big clue as to who will win the Grand Tour when it reaches Paris on July 23.
“If you look back at all the results, certainly of the Tours I rode, the result of the first mountain finish is often very close to the GC (overall standings) in Paris,” he said.
Now retired, Evans is the only Australian and only rider for the BMC team to have won the Tour.
But he has in Richie Porte a more than capable successor for both those roles.
And current race leader Geraint Thomas, Froome’s Sky team-mate, believes Porte will be looking to attack at the end of Wednesday’s stage, which starts off quite flat but climbs to more than 1,000 metres by the finish.
“Richie is going to try for sure. He is in great form and the climb is perfect for him,” said Thomas.
Despite wearing the yellow jersey, the 31-year-old Welshman insisted he has no personal designs in this Tour other than helping his team leader.
“I’m fully committed to Froomey and winning the Tour with him,” he said.
The stage ends with a steep first category climb, 5.9km long at an average 8.5 percent gradient, although the very end rises to 20 percent.
“It’s not a long climb,” said Froome.
“We shouldn’t see big time differences, but definitely it’s tough enough to show exactly where all the rivals are at.”
UAE Team Emirates’ Ben Swift was denied a top 10 finish at stage four of the Tour de France as the rider was caught up in the controversial crash between Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish, just metres from the finish.
Fellow UAE Team Emirates rider Maneule Mori was fortunate to avoid the crash and went on to finish the race in eighth place after Peter Segan (BORA – Hansgrohe) elbowed Mark Cavendish (Team Dimension Data) which led to his disqualification from the Tour.
Meanwhile, France’s Arnaud Demare (FDJ) won the sprint finish while Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) retained the Yellow Jersey on day four. The UAE Team Emirates rider Diego Ulissi remains in the top 20.
Speaking after the stage Swift said: “You’re sprinting and following the wheel and then all of a sudden I went flying. We were sprinting in a line and then all of a sudden there was a body on the floor and we tried to turn but it was not possible. We had to come back after the earlier crash so we were already on the limit.”
Starting in Vittel, Wednesday’s stage five is widely regarded as one of the most important of the early stages, covering 216km.
GC riders will be drawn out as they tackle the first category one climb of the Tour, up to La Planche des Belles Filles which will challenge riders with a maximum gradient of 20%.
Whilst riders will not naturally use this stage to gain a significant time advantage, it can give competitors a big psychological boost, if they end the day at the top of the first summit finish.
World champion Peter Sagan was sensationally kicked off the Tour de France for elbowing Mark Cavendish in a hectic sprint finish to Tuesday’s fourth stage.
British sprint great Cavendish was taken to hospital by ambulance with shoulder and finger injuries after crashing to the ground when Sagan shoved him into the metal safey barriers 100 metres from the finish of the 207.5km stage from Mondorf-les-Bains to Vittel.
“We’ve decided to disqualify Peter Sagan from the Tour de France 2017 as he endangered some of his colleagues seriously in the final metres of the sprint which happened in Vittel,” said the president of the race commission, Philippe Marien.
“We will apply article 12.104 of the rules of the UCI… in which case commissaires (the race jury) can decide to enforce a judgement to disqualify a rider.”
Cavendish had earlier demanded an explanation from Sagan for the elbow that could end the Briton’s Tour, if like in 2014 he has suffered a broken collarbone.
Cavendish, 31, was following the wheel of eventual stage winner Arnaud Demare of France when Sagan jutted out an elbow, knocking the Briton into the barriers where he came crashing down to the ground.
The 30-time Tour stage winner was treated by medical staff before crossing the finish line with a bloodied and bandaged hand.
When he left for hospital, he was also wearing a sling.
“Injury-wise I’m going to go and get it checked out,” he told a scrum of reporters outside his Dimension Data team bus.
“I will definitely need stitches in this finger, it’s bleeding a lot.
“With the shoulder, it might be something to do with a previous injury, it’s sat backwards so I’m not sure if I’ve done something to the ligament.
“I’m not a doctor but from the feelings I’m not optimistic.”
But Cavendish said Sagan had to explain his actions.
“I was just following Demare round, and then Sagan just came over,” he added.
“I get on with Peter well but I don’t get it. If he came across it’s one thing, but the elbow?
“I’m not a fan of him putting his elbow in like that. I get on with Peter, a crash is a crash, but I’d just like to know about the elbow.”
Cavendish’s sports director at Dimension Data Roger Hammond told journalists: “If I was Sagan, I’d apologise for that.”
Fellow sprinter Andre Greipel of Germany accused Sagan of doing the same thing to him the previous day.
“Yesterday it was the same thing in the intermediate sprint, he (Sagan) gave an elbow to Andre,” Greipel’s Lotto-Soudal team manager Marc Sergeant told Eurosport.
Cavendish’s was the second of two crashes in the final kilometre as riders jostled for position to contest the sprint finish.
Race leader Geraint Thomas was taken down in the first crash, along with around a dozen riders, but he emerged unhurt.
“The crash happened right in front of me, I had nowhere to go really,” said Thomas.
“I managed to take off quite a bit of speed, I hit the deck but I’m fine.”
It was the second time in three stages that Thomas had been caught up in a crash.
“It’s ok, both times I managed to take off quite a bit of speed,” he added.
“I’m used to crashing, so it’s fine, I’m all ok.”
In all the furore of another bunch pile-up, French champion Demare’s achievement of becoming the first Frenchman to win a Tour stage in a sprint finish since 2006 was almost lost.
“It’s amazing, beating all the best sprinters like that at the Tour de France is something I’d hoped for, for a long time,” said Demare.
“Now I’ve managed it once, I think I can do it again.”
His win allowed him to claim the sprinters’ green jersey from German Marcel Kittel, winner of Sunday’s second stage but who was held up by the first crash and unable to contest the sprint.
With Slovak Sagan disqualified, Norway’s Alexander Kristoff came second and Greipel third.
Reigning champion Chris Froome retained second place, 12 seconds behind his Sky team-mate Thomas, with Australian Michael Matthews third on the same time as Froome.