Cycling: Sprint safety in the spotlight at Tour de France

Bora Hansgrohe team rider Peter Sagan of Slovakia elbowing Team Dimension Data rider Mark Cavendish of Britain into the barriers during the final sprint in the fourth stage of the 104th edition of the Tour de France cycling race on July 4, 2017.
Bora Hansgrohe team rider Peter Sagan of Slovakia elbowing Team Dimension Data rider Mark Cavendish of Britain into the barriers during the final sprint in the fourth stage of the 104th edition of the Tour de France cycling race on July 4, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

(AFP) - Sprint safety will be the buzz word on the Tour de France sixth stage on Thursday (July 6) following world champion Peter Sagan's disqualification.

Slovak Sagan paid the price for his muscular elbow that sent Mark Cavendish crashing into the metal safety barriers and out of the Tour with a broken shoulder blade in the fourth stage sprint finish on Tuesday.

Sagan denied he did anything wrong but the race commission decided his elbow had "endangered" his fellow sprinters and took draconian action.

The incident has sparked a debate about whether sprinters have - or even need - a callous streak, attributing greater importance to their own success than their rivals' health.

But FDJ manager Marc Madiot denied that sprinters are by nature any more feisty than other cyclists.

"It's like football. Some people go in with their studs up, others don't," he said.

Certainly the sprint finish to Thursday's 216km stage from Vesoul to Troyes, expected to be fast and furious, will be scrutinised closely.

And it is sure to be as keenly fought as ever, particularly with Sagan's absence opening up the race for the sprinters' green jersey.

Sagan dominated that competition over the previous five years but now he has left the Tour, several riders will have their eye on a possible challenge, including Australia's Michael Matthews or current holder Arnaud Demare of France.

Following Wednesday's fireworks on the first mountain top finish of this year's race, won by Italian Fabio Aru following a gutsy solo attack, it will be down to the ground with a bump, and perhaps a few bruises too, on Thursday.

The sprinters will be wary after crashes marred the previous two sprint stages.

Two days ago, there was a crash in the final kilometre of the stage even before Sagan's elbow on Cavendish, a winner of 30 Tour stages.

The first crash had brought down around a dozen riders, including then-race leader Geraint Thomas.

And Thomas had also been brought down in a crash on Sunday's second stage, alongside his team-mate and reigning champion Chris Froome, the new yellow jersey holder since Wednesday's finish on La Planche des Belles Filles.

The previous pile-ups will mean it promises to be a nervy stage, and even more so in the run-in to the finish as riders jostle for position and the pace increases and tension intensifies.

With the sprinters eagerly anticipating another chance to gain a stage victory, and claim green jersey points, it is unlikely a breakaway will get much joy.