Vittel: World champion Peter Sagan was kicked out of the Tour de France on Tuesday after sending Mark Cavendish crashing in a hectic finale to the fourth stage, sending shockwaves through the three-week cycling extravaganza.
French champion Arnaud Demare won the stage, a 207.5-km ride from Mondorf-les-Bains, Luxembourg, but all the drama was just behind him. Slovakian Sagan elbowed Cavendish off balance as the Briton was trying to force his way between him and the safety barrier, and Cavendish was sent crashing heavily.
His Dimension Data team said the Briton was going to the hospital to have checks on his wrist and collarbone.
"Peter Sagan is disqualified from the 2017 Tour de France after today's tumultuous sprint in Vittel," race jury president Philippe Marien told reporters.
He cited Article 12 of the International Cycling Union (UCI) rules, which states that any rider making a wilful obstruction "against one of the 1st 10 riders placed" faces elimination.
In 2010, Cavendish's then lead-out man Mark Renshaw of Australia was kicked out of the race for headbutting New Zealand's Julian Dean in a sprint.
Cavendish, wearing a sling, said: "I get on with Peter well... if he came across it's one thing, but the elbow...
"I’m not a fan of him putting his elbow in me like that. A crash is a crash. I’d just like to know about the elbow, really. I’d just like to speak to him about it."
Sagan, who later went to Cavendish's team bus to apologise, added: "He was coming from behind, I did not have time to react and go left."
German John Degenkolb, the 2016 Paris-Roubaix champion, also crashed as he ran into Cavendish on the ground.
The Briton eventually got back on his bike and crossed the line after being attended to by race medics.
The race's yellow jersey holder, Britain's Geraint Thomas, hit the deck in a separate pile-up near the end, but as the incident occurred within the final three kilometres he will be credited with the same time as the winner.
Thomas and defending champion Chris Froome, who was held up behind the crash and is 12 seconds behind his compatriot in the overall classification, are fine, Team Sky said.
"I went to the ground, but no serious damage," said Thomas, who was also brought down in a crash on Sunday.
Norway's Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) came home third, but moved up to second after Sagan's expulsion, as FDJ rider Demare, who has been in impressive form lately, had time to raise his arms in celebration before crossing the line.
Demare, the 2011 under-21 world champion, burst into the limelight when he won the 'Monument' classic Milan-San Remo last year but he said Tuesday's victory was more special.
"It's really special because the Tour is something that goes beyond cycling," said Demare, who for the first time in his career has dedicated teammates for the sprints on a grand tour, after FDJ recruited two strong domestiques in Davide Cimolai and Jacopo Guarnieri.
Demare took the green jersey for the points classification and is now the favourite to take it to Paris, a feat Sagan was looking to achieve for a record-equalling sixth time.
Wednesday's fifth stage should see the top guns in action as the 160.5-km ride from Vittel will finishup La Planche des Belles Filles, a lung-busting 5.9-km climb at an average gradient of 8.5 percent.