Fifteen seconds in Vittel: A short drama based on a true story

The exact moment that lead to the controversy on Stage 4, ultimately concluding with world champion Peter Sagan's (Bora-Hansgrohe) disqualification from the race.

by Peter Flax

There is chaos and weirdness and melodrama, and then there is what happened at the end of Stage 4 of the Tour de France. A mostly boring stage experienced an impactful turn of events in the last 300 meters, yielding the defining moment of the event’s first week — a high-speed crash that sent Mark Cavendish to the tarmac with a race-ending broken shoulder and controversially got reigning World Champion Peter Sagan an ejection from the Tour. Here, based on a close examination of video evidence and some healthy creative license, contributor Peter Flax imagines a sort of oral history of those final 300 meters to the finish line in Vittel.

Andre: Three hundred meters to go. Not quite time. Jurgen is pulling nicely.

Jurgen: This feels so horrible. I wish someone would come around me and start this thing.

Mark: Patience, Manxman, patience.

Arnaud: Not yet. It is not quite time to show my panache.

Peter: Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.

Nacer: Soon, champ, soon.

Alexander: Now! It is time to take over this puny 207-kilometer bike race.

Andre: That dude is always impatient in short races. Whatever — it’s on!

Alexander: Legs feel good. I’ll show everyone I’m not too heavy.

Jurgen: Thank god I can pull off now.

Arnaud: Interesting — the whole right side of the road is wide open.

Mark: That looks like the wheel to grab today.

Peter: Ooh, Demare looks strong. I should get that wheel.

Nacer: Why is everyone going right? If Arnaud chops me again, I’m going to need extra time with the heavy bag tonight.

Andre: If Nacer thinks he’s going to get Alexander’s wheel, he’s got something coming. Why can’t these guys just hold a line?

Alexander: I think I might have hit this too soon.

Arnaud: Still more room right. Let’s do this for the forlorn French masses.

Mark: This is great. I’ve got this wheel and there’s still tons of room.

Peter: I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floatin’ around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s both.

Alexander: Crap, that erratic French guy put his helmet on me and took my wheel.

Arnaud: Now there’s no way anyone can pass along the barriers. Go time.

Mark: There’s still tons of room.

Peter: Arnaud just nudged left. He’s gonna drag me to a win.

Mark: Man, I hope Peter slides left a bit, too. I think there’s still room.

Arnaud: Let me tuck in behind this husky Katusha guy for a sec and then win this thing.

Nacer: Wait, now he’s pushing me left? This guy’s going to chop me again. Merde! I will have to bang my handlebar extra hard.

Mark: I still think there’s room.

Peter: Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering. (Pause in internal dialogue. Sensors detect a brake hood in quadrant six and an aero MET helmet on right shoulder. Systems enact four-dimensional evasive action.)

Ben: I really wish I was on the other side of the road.

Mark: Crap. There’s no room. Now I’m going to take us both down.

Silence on the stage as Sagan’s internal gyroscopically based vestibular balance system makes hundreds of minor adjustments, including a reflexively raised right elbow, to avoid crashing into barrier at 70 kilometers per hour.

Mark: Ouch. These barriers hurt like a mother!

Ben: Crap.

John: What he said.

Ben: Why is that green Cervelo…

John:…sliding across the pavement?

Ben: Maybe I can squeeze…oof. Ouch.

John: What he said.

Alexander: What the hell is going on back there? I can’t believe I’m still leading this thing.

Arnaud: I guess I have a lane straight ahead but I feel like going left now. This Katusha guy isn’t going to win but he’s a diesel.

Andre: Now they’re coming back to the center of the road? What a bunch of jokers.

Nacer: How the hell did Peter not go down? Grab that wheel, champ. UCI points are UCI points.

Mark: Rolf is going to go ballistic. I wish that guy would get on Twitter and defend me. That way that elbow that came out as I ran into Peter’s ass at 70 kph along the barrier really pisses me off.

Peter: I wonder who that was. I hope he’s okay. Also, I’m psyched to eat some Haribo.

Andre: I can’t hold this wheel. So frustrating. This is too irregular for my liking.

Mark: The pavement never gets any softer. Argh.

Alexander: Keep driving to the line. With French guys, you never know.

Peter: Beauty is truth, truth beauty — that is all.

Arnaud: This win is all mine. I hope my helmet is on straight. I am so glad nothing will overshadow this great moment.

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