Just when you thought all the drama was being created in the mountains of the Tour, the sprinters decided that they needed a bit of the limelight. Team HTC-Columbia rider Mark Cavendish scored his third stage win in Valence on stage 11, but that wasn't the drama.
What caused all the drama was that in the final 400 meters of the sprint, Cavendish's teammate, Mark Renshaw, head-butted Garmin-Transition rider Julian Dean. The Garmin-Transition team filed a protest and the race referees decided to throw Renshaw out of the race. This is an unprecedented move. To be sure, Belgian sprinter Tom Steels was tossed a few years back when he hurled a water bottle at another rider, but head-butting is pretty common in field sprints.
In a team statement after the incident, Renshaw said that his head-butt was a defensive manouver which was required because Dean was using his elbows to crowd him and he had to make the move or both he and Dean would have crashed. Interestingly, when interviewed right after the race by Versus TV Dean didn't not feel that anything irregular had taken place during the sprint.
Regardless of what happened what is interesting is the the race referees decided to toss Renshaw out of the race. In the past when such head-butting incidents have occurred, the rider is just relegated to the back of the pack. That usually means that the affected rider forfeits their stage win. However, in this case, it was Renshaw's teammate Cavendish who won the stage so relegating Renshaw is really no penalty at all.
If you believe there should be a penalty in this situation then the question is what should it be? Should you take away the stage win from Cavendish even though it was his teammate who did the head-butt? Was the head-butt critical to Cavendish's win?
I personally believe that Renshaw should have been relegated to the back of the peloton for the day's stage. That is what is done if you have won a stage using that tactic. Why should the rule change just because you didn't win. Yes, it is a bit of a meaningless penalty, but sometimes that is the way it plays out.
What I am guessing happened with the ruling is the the referees thought that relegating Renshaw to the back of the peloton was not a stiff enough penalty and since they really couldn't take the stage victory away from Cavendish they decided to throw Renshaw out of the race. I don't agree with this decision and think the referees have to let this one go and amend the racing rule book to have a more fair way to deal with this situation when it arises again.
Renshaw should be allowed to start tomorrow. If not, then the referees got this one very, very wrong.
ps - is this a continuation of the rivalry between Garmin-Transitions and HTC-Columbia?