Tour de France 2010: Cavendish, Renshaw and the culture of cheating

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Cycling fans who spent hours analyzing replays of Mark Renshaw’s head-butting and swerving incidents — and arguing over their legitimacy — during Stage 11 of the 2010 Tour de France were missing the point of his disqualification.

Whether it was fair to kick Renshaw out of the Tour, or that the judges overreacted to his jockeying, had little to do with the ruling. Instead the judges, in moving quickly and decisively, wanted to send a much broader message to the pro cycling circuit.

Team HTC and its two Marks — Renshaw and the world’s fastest human on wheels, Cavendish — have adopted a win-at-all-costs strategy that, unfortunately, has reached the point of cheating. In making their ruling, the judges were saying, in effect, It’s time to stop with the bullying and “gladiator” tactics and do the racing “straight up.”

It’s time to play fair.

Wenatchee’s Tyler Farrar, who may have been cheated out of his first-ever Tour stage win, was visibly angry but managed to be his usual articulate and measured self, pointing out that the rules state you ride in a straight line during a final sprint. Whether Renshaw meant to cut off Tyler or not is beside the point; he broke the rules, and he did so knowingly.

Still, it seems obvious that had this been an isolated and first-time offense for Cavendish and his Team HTC mates, a lighter punishment might have been meted out. But it wasn’t.

Cavendish in particular has been repeatedly at the center of questionable tactics. He was himself disqualified from a 2009 Tour stage for playing dirty against rival Thor Hushovd. Earlier this season he caused a sensational crash in the Tour of Switzerland, leading to penalization and even a fine.

Most extraordinarily, the rest of the riders joined in a mass protest the next day against Mark the Mouth and associates. Having your comrades align against you is about as clear an indictment as can be handed out.

The protest should have been enough to get HTC to sit up and ride straight. Instead its only apparent lasting effect was to prompt Cav to shed tears of relief on the podium after his first stage win in the Tour last week. Much ink was wasted after Cavendish’s emotional display to the effect that he was putting his bad boy image to rest.

Instead, he may have merely been passing the baton.

Until yesterday, Cavendish was considered a lone outlaw. But when they saw his swagger poisoning the rest of his team with Renshaw’s actions, the judges decided to put an emphatic end to the spread of infection. If the gangrene of Cavendish’s ego is making its way to the limbs of his team support, then the only correct procedure is amputation.

This is bike racing, not professional wrestling, they declared (in so many words). If Renshaw wants to head-butt his way to victory, he is now free to join the WWE.

He’ll have to shed the helmet, though.

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3 thoughts on “Tour de France 2010: Cavendish, Renshaw and the culture of cheating”

  1. Nice invective but wasn’t last year’s relegation (not DQ else he couldn’t have won in Paris) more fault of wiggly barriers than changing line?

  2. I was appalled at the tactics used by HTC Columbia yesterday. Cavendish did not win fairly and the team is an embarrassment to cyclists everywhere. I am ashamed for them and disgusted. As a native northwest Oregonian and a member of the cycling community, I hope Columbia finds some riders with better sportsmanship and some ethics before no one wants to be seen in our own home brand of clothing anymore.

  3. Thanks MJ, “relegation” seems more accurate but isn’t used in the news accounts at the time or Wikipedia’s recounting either. I guess DQ in this case means not the person but the stage result. In any case, appreciate the clarification even though I of course knew that Cav continued on the 2009 Tour. It’s also clear that the judges in 2009 found intent on Cav’s part, and Cav pretty much acknowledged later that his comments against Hushovd were bush-league. I’m just bummed that Tyler had to withdraw because it’d be fun to see both these guys go on even terms … we’ll see how Cav fares against Thor and the others without Ren.

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