SAINT-MALO, France (VN) — There’s never, ever, a dull moment at the Tour de France.
In the final seconds of Tuesday’s stage 10 drag race into Saint Malo, Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Tom Veelers (Argos-Shimano) got tangled up, and Veelers careened into the pavement. Veelers was pulling off from his leadout of eventual stage winner Marcel Kittel when he veered right in the final 200 meters. Cavendish moved right to avoid Veelers, then rebounded before cutting left to follow the acceleration of André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol).
The reaction to the event — including a tense exchange at the Omega Pharma bus — has been mixed, but not in short supply.
“I did my leadout for Marcel, and as I did my job, I went out of the way. And it was Cavendish who took me off my bike. When I see the video it’s very clear it’s his fault, he has to be DQed. The sprint was strange; it’s unbelievable that something like that happens,” Veelers said. “I want excuses at least. I’m a little finished with Cavendish.”
Veelers would have no such luck. UCI jury president Vicente Tortajada told Belgian journalists there was no talk of a penalty for the Manxman.
“At no time was there a question of relegation or disqualification,” said Tortajada. “We reviewed the sprint many times. Veelers was finishing his work and he pulled off. If it was someone’s fault, it was not Cavendish’s.”
Cavendish had to agree, of course. After the stage finished, he took to Twitter to comment on the incident: “Whatever has happened, if I’m at fault, I’m sorry. There’s no way I’d move on a rider deliberately, especially one not contesting a sprint. I hope @tom-veelers is ok.’
Later, Cavendish met reporters outside the Omega Pharma bus.
“The road was bearing left,” he said. “I know you’re trying to get all the ‘Mark Cavendish is a really bad sprinter again,’ but with 150 meters to go the road bears left … All I do is follow the road … There will be net forums with people going mad about it but I follow the road, I’m not going to hit the barriers …”
Asked if the crash were his fault, the always-fiery Cavendish took Associated Press reporter Jamey Keaton’s recorder and returned to the bus, though it was given back quickly after.
The incident was a bittersweet one for Argos, as Veelers survived the crash unhurt while Marcel Kittel came through to win the stage, beating fellow German André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) in the sprint for the line.
When questioned later about the crash, Kittel tried to downplay the incident and insisted that such things are just part of the game as riders jostle for position in a sprint finish.
“I saw on video the crash. It was very unlucky that they bumped into each other,” he said. “Tom was going out from doing the leadout and his handlebars touched Cavendish’s.
“I cannot imagine that it was on purpose because it was just the last moment of the sprint and sometimes that happens.”
Kittel’s diplomatic comments didn’t stop riders and team staff from taking to Twitter to respond to the crash.
Greipel’s leadout man Greg Henderson wrote that Veelers was “knocked off his bike unnecessarily. That’s not professional.” The Kiwi later clarified: “Don’t [sic] get me wrong. @MarkCavendish is not a crazy sprinter. Never has been, never will be. He has speed. Today was a mistake by him IMO.”
Not everyone was throwing blame at Cavendish, however. Robbie McEwen, a former green jersey winner on three occasions and current advisor to Orica-GreenEdge, wrote, “What happened with @MarkCavendish & Veelers was an accident. Cav sprinting & Veelers looking down drifted right. Looks like Tom is ok #tough.”
Cavendish’s Dutch teammate, Niki Terpstra, pointed to the late turn toward the finish in Saint Malo: “@letour wanted some spectacle when they decited [sic] to put the finish in a corner with smooth cobblestones.well,they got it!what if it rained?”
The man at the center of the controversy, Cavendish fired back on Twitter later in the evening, writing, “Can all sprint experts on twitter go & try flicking their bike right at 65kph without leaning your body left to balance & come back to me.”
This is not the first time controversy has followed Cavendish in a bunch finish. In June 2010, officials at the Tour de Suisse fined and penalized Cavendish in the points classification after he veered from his line and caused Heinrich Haussler and others to crash. The next day, riders from Ag2r La Mondiale, Caisse d’Epargne, and Cérvelo TestTeam protested, causing a two-minute delay to the race start.
“We just want to send a message to Cavendish to ask him for more respect,” Ag2r La Mondiale director Gilles Mas said at the time.
Cavendish called it the worst crash of his career.
“I’m not going to say that I wasn’t wrong but I don’t think I’m the one who should have taken all the blame. That’s disappointing,” he said. “It’s sad that people are badly injured. I don’t want to make a big show about it.”
Tuesday’s incident was far from that crash in Switzerland, but, in the age of social media, the gallery is no slower or less willing to lob criticism.