Saturday, July 18, 2009

Controversy after Stage 14 (TDF 09)

Tensions ran high in the peloton on the day before the tour enters the Alps and Team Columbia-HTC was in the middle of the storm. Columbia's star sprinter, Mark Cavendish, and the team's crafty veteran, George Hincapie, both got a good deal of press time after the race, but not for the normal reasons.

Tour officials disqualified Cavendish, the 24-year old Brit and self-proclaimed "fastest man in the world", after he shoved the current green jersey holder, Norway's Thor Hushovd of Cervelo Test Team in the stage's bunch sprint.

"When Cavendish saw that I was about to get past him on the right flank, he pushed me towards the barrier," said Hushovd to Reuters News Agency, adding, "His disqualification is logical. I can appreciate that he is faster than me but what he did is not normal."

Hushovd has 218 points over Cavendish's 200 in the points race and will likely hold the green jersey through the Alps.

Cavendish and Team Columbia were not available for comment, according to Reuters.

Cavendish's disqualification was not the only stroke of bad luck for Team Columbia-HTC. Team leader George Hincapie, who along with a mixed group of riders broke away from the peloton early and seemed to have the yellow jersey locked-up, managed to only come in come in second in the general classification, 5 seconds behind current yellow jersey holder, AG2R-La Mondiale's Rinaldo Nocentini.

Hincapie was angry after the stage and seemed to put the blame on Team Astana and Team Garmin-Slipstream for picking up the slack for AG2R.

Armstrong, who is on Astana and also a good friend of Hincapie, seemed unaware of Hincapie's anger after the stage, but on his Twitter page he voiced his opinion on how he would have liked to see Hincapie in yellow.

"No on, and I mean no one, wanted George in yellow more than me...Until 10km to go he was solidly in yellow until Garmin put on the gas and made sure it didn't happen." Armstrong said on Twitter.

Garmin putting "on the gas" might be attributed to the rivalry that recently developed between the Garmin-Slipstream and Columbia-HTC teams. There's rumored to be a bit of bad blood between the teams, especially with the success Mark Cavendish has had.

While Hincapie deals with the fallout, the Russian Serguei Ivanov can celebrate the stage after a spectacular breakaway with less than 5km to go. It was his first stage win in the tour since 2001 and the first win for Russia's Team Katusha.

All this controversy only adds to the excitement as the peloton enters the Alps on Sunday. With only a week left there is still a lot left at stake as the top four riders in the GC are separated by only seconds and the top ten by less then 2 minutes.

Many things are undecided, such as who is the real leader of Astana, Contador or Armstrong, also can Cavendish gain back the green jersey from Thor Hushovd and who will attack the Astana boys in the alps and challenge for dominance. Carlos Sastre is still there, as is Andy Schleck, Cadel Evans and Christian Vande Velde.

There is just one week to decide it all...oh, and don't forget Mont Ventoux is only 24 hours before Paris.

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