Australian Mark Renshaw has been thrown out of the Tour de France for trying to headbutt rival Julian Dean during a bunch sprint finish to the end of the 11th stage, race officials said.
Renshaw, the lead-out man for stage winner Mark Cavendish, was shown by television pictures trying to headbutt the Garmin-Transitions rider from New Zealand three times in the final 400 meters of the home straight.
Cavendish then raced ahead towards eventual victory, his third this year on the race and 13th in three participations, with Renshaw then seen trying to block Dean’s sprinter, Tyler Farrar, as the American tried to come up the inside of the barriers.
Top race official Jean-Francois Pescheux said after the race: “Renshaw was declassified immediately but we have decided to also throw him off the race.
“We’ve only seen the pictures once, but his actions are plain for all to see. This is a bike race, not a gladiator’s arena.”
Renshaw said he was “extremely disappointed and also surprised at this decision. I never imagined I would be removed from any race especially the Tour de France. I pride myself on being a very fair, safe and a straight-up sprinter and never in my career have I received a fine or even a warning.”
Julian came hard in on my position with his elbows. I needed to use my head to retain balance or there would have been a crash. If had used my elbows when Julian brought his elbow on top of mine we would also have crashed. The object was to hold my line and stay upright.
“I hadn’t started the sprint yet. We were still at 375 meters to go. After that Cavendish had to start his sprint early and I was also ready to finish off the sprint as I still had a lot left in my legs. It would have been good to try to take some more points. I only saw open space on my left. I had no idea Tyler Farrar was there. By no means would I ever put any of my fellow riders in danger.”
Farrar said he was lucky to avoid a crash.
“You can’t do a sprint like that … We should let the fastest man win. Of course, I am angry – I am lucky I didn’t crash. There should be more respect in the sprints …”
Cavendish saw it differently.
“I can’t understand why the commissaires made the decision,” Cavendish said. “It’s against what we as a team believes happened. We’ll just have to see what happens. I’m very sad.”
“We came around the last corner in good position. Julian Dean came around on the right, and hooked his left elbow over Mark’s right elbow. Mark used his head to get a bit of space, which kept everybody upright.”
For Dean, a former teammate of Renshaw’s at Credit Agricole, Renshaw’s actions were simply uncalled for.
However, the Kiwi suggested it was Renshaw’s second error, closing the door on Farrar, that was most dangerous.
“All the other (HTC-Columbia) guys were fine, it was just Renshaw’s behavior that was inappropriate,” said Dean.
“I jumped my front wheel in Cav’s wheel. I went past Renshaw and tried to keep the speed high and while I was coming out of Renshaw, he didn’t seem to like it too much.
“I didn’t make any movement at all. Next thing I felt like he was leaning on me and hitting me with his head.
“And then he carried on afterwards and came across on Tyler’s line and stopped Tyler from possibly winning the stage. He shouldn’t have done that. It’s not appropriate.
“It’s dangerous behavior and if there had been a crash there it would have caused some guys some serious damage.
“What we do is very dangerous and we don’t need behavior like that to make it even more dangerous.”