Tour de France Stage 11 turns into 'gladiator arena'

Tour de France Stage 11 finished in a wild sprint, with Mark Cavendish claiming his third stage win. But his HTC-Columbia teammate was disqualified for head-butting another rider.

Peter Dejong/AP
Mark Cavendish of Britain crosses the finish line to win the 11th stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 184.5 kilometers (114.6 miles) with start in Sisteron and finish in Bourg-les-Valences, France, Thursday, ahead of Alessandro Petacchi of Italy, second place, and Tyler Farrar of the US, far right and third place.

Mark Cavendish today won his third stage of this year’s Tour de France, but lost a valuable HTC-Columbia teammate in the process.

Race organizers disqualified Australian Mark Renshaw after he head-butted Garmin-Transitions’ rider Julian Dean three times during last 200 meters of Stage 11’s wild sprint finish.

Renshaw is out. We watched the film once and it was blatant. He head-butted Dean like in a keirin race," said race director Jean-François Pescheux, referring to a track cycling event in which a pack of riders sprints for the finish.

IN PICTURES: Scenes from the 2010 Tour de France

After the head-butts, Renshaw came off of his line and forced another Garmin-Transitions’ cyclist, sprinter Tyler Farrar, into the barriers lining the course as Cavendish pushed ahead to the finish line.

“It’s not normal – he lets [Cavendish] off and then tries to crash everyone,” Farrar said, sitting on his bike after the race. “I’m all for riding fast sprints but you have to think of everyone’s safety.”

What Renshaw and Dean were supposed to do

On flat stages like today’s 114-mile endeavor in northern Provence, the race typically ends in a sprint.

Though it may look like a frantic scramble to the line, there’s actually etiquette behind the madness. As the final kilometers tick down, teams with strong sprinters move to the front of the peloton.

That’s where riders such as Renshaw and Dean come in.

Called leadout men, they set the pace for sprinters before ceding way shortly before the finish line.

As they let the sprinters through, these riders are supposed to continue heading in a straight line, not try to box out or change the direction of competitors.

Helicopter videos show Renshaw veered into Farrar's line

Overhead video replays, taken by a helicopter following the race, showed that Renshaw veered into Farrar’s line.

Despite the ejection, HTC-Columbia was quick to defend their rider.

“This is a hard sport with hard men in it,” said team owner Bob Stapleton outside of the team bus. “They’re sprinting down the road … guys are colliding. I wouldn’t be quick to point blame.”

Garmin-Transitions, obviously, felt different. After the race they quickly consulted race officials to see if Renshaw would be thrown out.

Team sport director Jonathan Vaughters told the Monitor after the race that he had never seen anything like it in his cycling career.

‘Not a gladiator’s arena’

After a mostly uneventful day of racing – SaxoBank’s Andy Schleck maintained the yellow jersey and the peloton caught the day’s breakaway with around 14 miles remaining – supporters at the finish were excited to have any action to watch.

As Renshaw hit Dean, one fan shouted, “Zizou, Zizou,” the nickname of former French soccer star Zinedine Zidane. Zidane was famously ejected for head-butting an Italian defender during the 2006 World Cup final in Germany.

This was not the first incident of violence between riders in this year’s Tour de France. During Stage 3, Garmin-Transitions’ Robbie Hunter, who dropped out of today’s race with a fractured right elbow, punched SaxoBank’s Jacob Fuglsang.

After Stage 7 in Gueugnon last Friday, QuickStep rider Carlos Barredo removed the front wheel from his bike and attempted to strike Caisse d’Epargne’s Rui Costa with it.

After today’s stage, Tour de France officials were quick to go on the PR offensive.

“This is a bike race, not a gladiator's arena,” said race director Pescheux.

Overall standings after Stage 11:

1. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank)
2. Alberto Contador (Astana) +0'41"
3. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel – Euskadi) +2'45"
4. Denis Menchov (Rabobank) +2'58"
5. Jurgen Van den Broeck (Omega Pharma – Lotto) +3'31"

Top US riders:

6. Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) +3'59"
25. Christopher Horner (RadioShack) +11'35"
32. Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) +17'51"

IN PICTURES: Scenes from the 2010 Tour de France

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