BOURGE-LES-VALENCE, France – Australian Mark Renshaw paid the price for his team’s win-at-all-costs approach to the Tour de France 11th stage on Thursday when he was excluded from the race for headbutting.
Renshaw, the lead-out man for HTC-Columbia team-mate Mark Cavendish, played a crucial role in Cavendish’s six stage wins on the race last year.
But in the final 500 meters of the 184.5km stage from Sisteron, the normally affable Australian lost his head when he tried to headbutt Garmin-Transitions’ Kiwi lead-out man Julian Dean three times.
Cavendish eventually raced on towards his third stage win of the race, and 13th of his career, as Renshaw then produced another blatant blunder by trying to block Dean’s sprinter, Tyler Farrar, as the American tried to come up the inside of the barriers.
Top race official Jean-Francois Pescheux said they only needed to look at the television pictures once to make their decision.
“Renshaw was declassified immediately but we have decided to also throw him off the race,” said Pescheux.
“We’ve only seen the pictures once, but his actions are plain for all to see. They were blatant. This is a bike race, not a gladiator’s arena.”
Television pictures appear to show Dean getting very close to Renshaw as he tried to bring Farrar into position, although elbows and shoulders are certainly not unknown to clash in the hotly-contested bunch sprints.
For Dean, a former team-mate of Renshaw’s at Credit Agricole, Renshaw’s actions were simply uncalled for.
However, the Kiwi suggested it was Renshaw’s second error, closing the door on Farrar, that was most dangerous.
“All the other (HTC-Columbia) guys were fine, it was just Renshaw’s behavior that was inappropriate,” said Dean.
“I jumped my front wheel in Cav’s wheel. I went past Renshaw and tried to keep the speed high and while I was coming out of Renshaw, he didn’t seem to like it too much.
“I didn’t make any movement at all. Next thing I felt like he was leaning on me and hitting me with his head.
“And then he carried on after wards and came across on Tyler’s line and stopped Tyler from possibly winning the stage. He shouldn’t have done that. It’s not appropriate.
“It’s dangerous behavior and if there had been a crash there it would have caused some guys some serious damage.
“What we do is very dangerous and we don’t need behavior like that to make it even more dangerous.”
Speaking before being informed of the decision, Renshaw claimed he had been in danger of being put into the barriers by Dean; a claim that television pictures did not appear to corroborate.
“The guy (Dean) came across from me… either he keeps turning left, puts me in the barrier and I crash, or I try to lean against him.
“I didn’t have another option. It’s all about sprinting straight.”
Although saddened by the decision, Cavendish laid some of the blame on Dean, claiming the Kiwi “hooked his elbow over Mark’s right elbow”.
“Mark used his head to try and get away. There’s a risk when the elbows are that close (that) the handlebars are going to tangle,” said Cavendish.
“That puts everyone behind in danger. Mark (Renshaw) gave us a bit of space that kept us upright.”
He added: “I’m very happy to win. The team did a great job.”
Article: AFP (Justin Davis)