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AUSTRALIA’S Tour de France hero does it again as anger engulfs a controversial finish, reports cycling expert JOHN TREVORROW:

THIS Tour de France just keeps on giving. The 167 km stage 11 from Chatelaillon-Plage to Poitiers started out as a pretty straightforward day in the saddle but ended up presenting us with one of the all-time great finales.   

Most of the stage can be summed up in one paragraph but the final five kilometres produced one of the most spectacular sprints in recent memory. The photo on the line shows Lotto-Soudal’s brilliant Aussie Caleb Ewan’s throw gets him there by a tyre with Slovakian Peter Sagan (Bora hansghroe) only half of that in front of Ireland’s Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quickstep) and an angry Belgian Wout van Aert (Jumbo Visma) only a wheel away fourth. It was Ewan’s second stage win of the race and his fifth in two years.

But in the final 100 metres it was Sagan’s audacious move to dive through a gap that wasn’t there that triggered van Aert’s angry outburst and two finger salute that saw the Belgian fined and the Slovakian relegated to the back of the pack.

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A three rider break in the final five kms had the lead-out trains going early so this sprint was full gas from there. Dutch all-rounder van Aert was relieved of his domestique duties for the day by Jumbo Visma and hit the front at the 200. This powerful sprinter looked like he just might pull it off but the best sprinters in this race were coming and it was the desperate throw on the line from all four that decided the race.  

If van Aert had left a small gap and then closed it Sagan would have an argument but there was never any room and his decision to burst through was super dangerous.   

The decision to relegate Sagan has divided the peloton but I don’t believe the jury had any other choice. Sagan has long had a commanding presence in the peloton – some would say arrogance – but Peter!! – you can’t just barge through when there is no gap.

None of this should take away any of the kudos from Ewan. The pocket rocket was never far from the front in the final five kilometers and produced the perfect sprint. Sagan was back to his brilliant best and with a clear run he may have won.

Ewan was ecstatic.

 “It was very, very hectic,” he said. “I was really close to the front with three and then one kilometre to go, I was more forward than I wanted to be, especially with a headwind finish. I dropped back into the bunch but from there it was quite crazy. I knew from the first stage that I won that I had to stay calm and wait for the right time and right gap to open it did in the end. 

“I had a real desire to win today after yesterday. I was quite disappointed with that sprint. I’m happy to repay my teammates with the win. I didn’t really know I’d won, I saluted just in case. I did a big throw and you’re basically looking down at the road, so you don’t see if you win or not. Sometimes you can feel it and I felt quite close.

“I’m super happy with two stage wins; one takes the pressure off and after the first one, you want a second. Now I want another, especially in Paris. I hope to get through the mountains alright and have another sprint in Paris.”

Sagan was livid at the jury’s decision and tried to defend his manoeuvre. “Today, I had the speed and in the sprint, I tried to go on the right side. I passed one rider easily, but then it got really narrow,” Sagan said. “I had to move to avoid the barriers and as a result, I got relegated. This cost me a lot of points but I still have not abandoned the fight for the green jersey.”

As they crossed the line, van Aert was quick to voice his displeasure and also added a two finger salute – and it wasn’t V for victory. The race jury then expressed its own displeasure by dropping Sagan to 85th, last place the main peloton.

“I think it’s not done to do it like that, actually,” van Aert said. “In my opinion, I sprinted in a completely straight line and start completely on the right at the barriers. He just tried to create space for him and for me it’s not allowed to do that. I think it’s already dangerous enough, and I was really surprised and shocked in the moment that I felt something. I was at maximum effort, so I was really scared.”

Van Aert said that he tried to communicate with Sagan after the stage but that came to no avail.

“In the first moment I was so shocked and surprised that I was a bit angry. I didn’t use a very nice word to him,” van Aert said. “Afterward, I tried to say to him I didn’t like it what he was doing. The only thing that came back was other strong words. It was hard to have a conversation.”

Bennett and Ewan obviously have a better relationship than most top sprinters. They could be seen pumping fists and congratulating each other on both sprint days. They do share the same apartment block in Monaco and Ewan’s wife Ryan is Irish, so I guess there is a bit in common there.

Bennett now moves 68 points clear in the battle for the prestigious Green Jersey after Sagan’s relegation. 

Bennett and Ewan were on the other side of the road and locked in their own tussle and oblivious to what happened with Sagan and van Aert. So Bennett was not really able to share much light on the subject. “A big part of sprinting is bumping shoulders and rubbing shoulders,” he said. “I really don’t know what happened but since when did sprinting get soft?”

He also would not count out the Slovakian in the battle for Green. “I feel like Sagan is getting stronger,” he warned.

And rightly so. Stages 12 and 14 are both over tough terrain that Sagan could take maximum points but the pure sprinters like Bennett and Ewan will not feature.

For Aussie GC contender Richie Porte (Trek Segafredo) it was an easy day cocooned in the safety of peloton. There was a bit of nervousnous early when Cyril Gautier (B&B Hotels) hit a metal post bringing down Ilnur Zakarin (CCC Team) and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana Pro Team) while still in the neutral zone.

Then a lone breakaway by Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ) was given plenty of rope and got out past 5 minutes. But when a dangerous group containing  Oliver Naesen (AG2R), Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Stefan Küng (FDJ), Lukas Pöstlberger (Bora-hansgrohe), Michael Gögl (NTT Pro Cycling), and Tom Van Asbroeck (Israel Start-Up Nation) caused a serious reaction from the peloton and that saw the time to the lone leader drop quickly.  

Stage 11

1Caleb Ewan (Aus) Lotto Soudal04:00:01
2Sam Bennett (Irl) Deceuninck-Quickstep
3Wout van Aert (Bel) Team Jumbo-Visma
4Bryan Coquard (Fra) B&B Hotels-Vital Concept
5Clement Venturini (Fra) AG2R la Mondiale
6Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo
7Luka Mezgec (Slo) Mitchelton-Scott
8Hugo Hofstetter (Fra) Israel Start-Up Nation
9Oliver Naesen (Bel) AG2R la Mondiale
10Ryan Gibbons (RSA) NTT Pro Cycling
11Matteo Trentin (Ita) CCC Team
12Alexander Kristoff (Nor) UAE Team Emirates
13Anthony Turgis (Fra) Total Direct Energie
14Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) NTT Pro Cycling
15Niccolò Bonifazio (Ita) Total Direct Energie
16Clément Russo (Fra) Team Arkea-Samsic
17Elia Viviani (Ita) Cofidis
18Cees Bol (Ned) Team Sunweb
19Daryl Impey (RSA) Mitchelton-Scott
20Kevin Ledanois (Fra) Team Arkea-Samsic
48Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R la Mondiale
49Hugo Houle (Can) Astana Pro Team
50Niklas Eg (Den) Trek-Segafredo
51Esteban Chaves (Col) Mitchelton-Scott
52Michael Valgren (Den) NTT Pro Cycling
53Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) CCC Team
54Gorka Izagirre Insausti (Spa) Astana Pro Team
55Luis León Sanchez (Spa) Astana Pro Team
56Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo

GC after stage 11

1Primoz Roglic (Slo) Team Jumbo-Visma46:15:24
2Egan Arley Bernal Gomez (Col) Ineos Grenadiers00:00:21
3Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis00:00:28
4Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R la Mondiale00:00:30
5Nairo Quintana (Col) Team Arkea-Samsic00:00:32
6Rigoberto Uran (Col) EF Pro Cycling00:00:32
7Tadej Pogacar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates00:00:44
8Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott00:01:02
9Miguel Angel Lopez Moreno (Col) Astana Pro Team00:01:15
10Mikel Landa Meana (Spa) Bahrain McLaren00:01:42
11Richie Porte (Aus) Trek-Segafredo00:01:53
12Enric Mas Nicolau (Spa) Movistar Team00:02:02
13Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo00:02:31
14Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma00:03:22
15Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers00:03:42
16Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain McLaren00:03:42
17Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team00:03:43
18Sergio Andres Higuita Garcia (Col) EF Pro Cycling00:06:08
19Esteban Chaves (Col) Mitchelton-Scott00:12:13
20Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe00:15:35

Author: John Trevorrow

JOHN TREVORROW is a multiple Australian champion road racer and Olympian who has been doing media commentary at the Tour de France for more than 20 years.



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