Renshaw pays price for headbutts on Dean
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 metres 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 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 behaviour 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."
He added: "And then he carried on afterwards 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 behaviour 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 behaviour 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," he said. "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."
Petacchi throws green jersey challenge to Hushovd
Alessandro Petacchi is now in the green jersey
Italian veteran Alessandro Petacchi called out sprint rival Thor Hushovd after taking possession of the Tour de France green jersey for the points competition on Thursday.
Lampre rider Petacchi, the winner of two stages so far, started the 184.5km 11th stage from Sisteron to Bourg-lès-Valence with a seven-point deficit to Cervelo fast man Hushovd.
After finishing runner-up to Britain's Mark Cavendish as the HTC-Columbia man grabbed a third, albeit controversial, win of the race, the Italian added 30 points to his tally and now holds a four-point lead.
Two-time green jersey winner Hushovd took only 19 points for his seventh-place finish, ending the hopes of team director Jean-Paul van Poppel for the day.
"We calculated that we could lose points today. We did the best we could. We tried to keep it, but it was not possible," said the Dutchman.
Hushovd later admitted he has lacked power for the bunch sprints since breaking his collarbone in May.
"I know I am not as fast as last year in the sprint. My injury slowed down my preparations for the Tour," said the Norwegian. "But I feel like I am getting stronger day by day."
Petacchi came into the race primarily looking to boost his unremarkable season thus far with stage wins, and has already succeeded after winning the first and fourth stages. But the Italian now believes he can actually challenge Hushovd all the way to Paris for a prize whose points can be won at the finish line of the flatter stages as well as at intermediate sprints on all stages.
After admitting he could not overtake Cavendish in the final 80 metres, "because by then I was starting to reach a plateau", Petacchi has now turned his attention to a more unlikely achievement.
"I'd love to arrive in Paris with the green jersey. It's now a huge motivation for me on this race. And, I'm in good condition," said Petacchi.
Yet the Italian faces a battle.
Hushovd's determination to beat Cavendish to the prize last year left him going off on audacious solo raids into the mountains in a bid to gobble up the intermediate sprint points.
And the Norwegian suggested that more of the same could be on the menu.
"I will keep fighting. Let's see how we get over the mountains," he said.
Van Poppel, meanwhile, believes the duel could even be decided on the final finish line on the Champs Elysees in Paris.
"The fight for the green jersey will be very hard. We expect it to come down to the final sprint on Paris. Thor has the advantage that he can climb and I believe he is becoming stronger. It won't be easy."
Contador survives Saxo Bank skirmish
Alberto Contador survived Saxo Bank's attempt to drop him late in stage 11
Alberto Contador admitted to experiencing a tense end to the 11th stage of the Tour de France on Thursday as he fought off an attempt to drop him by yellow jersey rival Andy Schleck.
Contador started the 184.5km 11th stage from Sisteron with a 41sec deficit on Schleck, and with no apparent reason to worry. But with 19km remaining Schleck's Saxo Bank team pulled to the front of the peloton in ominous fashion.
The Danish outfit upped the pace and, in an area with little protection from the strong crosswinds, they soon had the peloton strung out and many riders in trouble.
Gaps began to appear, and while three of Contador's climbing specialist team-mates were left behind in a smaller group, Spain's reigning yellow jersey champion looked to be briefly in trouble.
Contador was eventually brought back into the safety of the peloton by team-mate Alexandre Vinokourov and took his place close to the yellow jersey of Schleck.
"It seemed pretty calm, but it turned out there was a lot of wind - but we got through it okay," said Contador, who rides for Astana. "But the tension was there."
Although the Schleck v Contador duel is likely to move up a gear once the race hits the Pyrenees for four stages beginning on Sunday, Saxo Bank's bid to drop Contador was not a total surprise.
A similar move by the HTC-Columbia team on last year's race caused mayhem. Their turn of pace amid strong crosswinds on stage three to La Grande Motte split the race in two, leaving a 28-man group, which included Lance Armstrong but not his then team-mate Contador, to go it alone.
Among the main contenders to lose time that day were Schleck, Contador, Cadel Evans and Denis Menchov.
That stage also confirmed that Armstrong, who started the 2009 race pledging to help Contador, had personal ambitions of his own.
Contador meanwhile has played down his chances of taking time off Schleck at the end of Friday's 210.5km stage to Mende, which ends with a steep 3km ascension of the 'Jalabert' climb.
He took time off Schleck there at the Paris-Nice stage race in March, but said: "It will be a totally different climb, first of all because we've already raced a lot of hard days on the Tour.
"First we have to see how we are and then what we can do."
© AFP 2010