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by Matt de Neef
July 5, 2016
Photography by Cor Vos
ANGERS, France (CT) – His English mightn’t be perfect but there’s no misunderstanding Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) when he speaks about rider safety at the Tour de France.
Over the past two days the stage 2 winner and overall leader has voiced his concerns about rider safety in the bunch, saying he believes this aspect of the sport has taken a turn for the worse in recent years.
“When I did my first Tour de France, it was a different race,” Sagan said after winning stage 2. “Now I am in the group and everybody is riding like they don’t care about life. It is unbelievable. Last year it was very bad and this year it is also very bad.
“It is like everybody loses the brain. I don’t know how to explain what is going to happen in the group, but it is stupid crashes in the group and very dangerous. Before it was respect; when somebody did something stupid everybody maybe threw their bottles at him or beat him with their pumps, I don’t know. But now cycling loses this.”
Several journalists have asked in recent days whether there’s a role for Peter Sagan to play in ensuring great rider safety in future. After all, the 26-year-old is the current world champion, the leader of the Tour de France and one of the most admired cyclists in the peloton. If anyone could have a demonstrable impact, it would seemingly be Sagan.
But the Slovakian believes there’s a lack of respect in the bunch and that assuming the role of a ‘patron’ would be largely pointless.
“No, in this moment I am not an important rider in the peloton because nobody cares,” he said after stage 2. “I don’t know, it is like everybody loses the brain.
“All the riders have patron in the car — you know, the director sportif. Everybody talking about ‘We have to be in the front’ and it’s a dangerous part. I don’t know. Everybody take the risk to be in the front. Nobody cares about other riders.”
But speaking after the stage 3 bunch sprint in Angers, in which he finished fourth, Sagan did call for changes to the rules that dictate the final kilometres of road stages at the Tour de France.
Under current regulations, riders that crash or have a mechanical issue inside the final 3km are given the same time as the winner. While this rule prevents GC contenders from getting in the way of the sprinters in the final 3km (to avoid losing time), it’s still an issue in the frenetic final kilometres before those final 3km.
Sagan hopes to speak with the UCI to get the 3km rule extended.
“I think it will be better for cycling, for our safety because there are a lot of GC riders here who want to make a good performance,” Sagan said. “When there are climbs it’s purely the legs that decide who is good and who is not good, but now for the first stages they [the GC contenders] want to ride with the sprinters for the sprint.
“I don’t want to fight with sprinters and also GC riders.”
Stage 3 victor Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) agrees with Sagan’s sentiments, but has his own interpretation of the 3km rule and its impact.
“To be fair, it’s not really the 3km rule that causes the mentality of the riders … someone like Sky were in there today,” Cavendish said. “I think the mentality’s changed a little bit in that some guys, not all GC guys … in the past they used to go to the back and roll in kind of gently. And then it kind of evolved that splits happened and so they didn’t want to be caught behind the split.
“Now there are some riders that actively want to be ahead of the split. It’s not like they just [don’t] want to … be behind the split, they’re trying to be up there, hoping there’s a split so they can get a few seconds.”
For Cavendish, there’s another reason bunch sprints are perhaps more hectic than they used to be.
“The problem is the stakes now are so high in cycling; there’s more money,” the 28-time Tour de France stage winner said. “He [Sagan] earns so much money that guys want to do well to emulate how much money he earns and so they’re going to take risks to do that.
“With that much money going around in cycling, obviously the consequences of winning and losing are that much higher and it’s kind of caused a problem.”
The 2016 Tour de France continues tomorrow with it’s longest stage; a 237km mostly flat jaunt from Saumur to Limoges which is more than likely to end in another bunch sprint. All concerned will be hoping for an incident-free finale.