TdF Day Thirteen

“I’m known as a clean sprinter,” declared Mark Renshaw in a TV interview after today’s stage.  Renshaw is, or was, the main lead-out man for HTC-Columbia’s gifted sprinter Mark Canvendish, who won today’s sprint finish of Stage 11 in Bourg-les-Valence.  Cavendish’s win was his third in this Tour, and thirteenth overall, breaking the mark of his mentor, former T-Mobil rider Erik Zabel.  The sprint was contested on a broad, long, flat straightway into the finish, providing all the sprint teams the opportunity to set up and get their guys in place.  Alessandre Petacchi was second, and Tyler Farrar, young American up-and-comer, was third.  Farrar has been riding with a bone fracture in his wrist (an incredibly painful though not dangerous injury), and today was the first time in a while that he’s been able to contest the finish.

Cavendish got a great leadout, and seemed to be the fastest man on the road at the finish.  But the lead out was severely tainted by the behavior of Mark Renshaw, who went off his line to his right to head-butt Farrar’s leadout rider, Julian Dean, three times, and then off-line to his left to push Farrar himself dangerously close to the barriers at the edge of the road.  Farrar appeared to touch Renshaw’s back and probably yelled something, and Renshaw then moved to the right, allowing Farrar to sprint.  The familiar term for this among the British group who call the race on TV is “argy-bargy,” an old British slang term, probably from the Scots.  It happens in sprinting.  Every sprinter and his support group are fighting for every square inch of space, every iota of advantage, all at about 60 to 70 kmh.  Feisty riders like Robbie McEwen, who’s administered a head-butt or two in his time,  have been known to be relegated to last place in the day’s placing, or even DQ’ed from the race.

Tyler Farrar, exhausted, excited, and a bit emotional in his TV interview, said that Cavendish might have been the best today, but we’ll never know.  And that’s one of the problems; the results are irreparably tainted.  The other problem is rider safety.  Had Farrar crashed into the barriers at that speed, he’d be in bad physical shape right now; his Tour would probably be over.  That’s why Renshaw was Cavendish’s prime leadout man.  The judges didn’t see him as a “clean sprinter,” but a dangerous rider.  They disqualified him from the 2010 Tour, and rightly so.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

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