VITTEL - 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.