Bob Gosford writes:

Overnight we saw the best and worst of the Tour de France.

Best was the sight of Australian Mark Renshaw’s tussle with Kiwi Julian Dean on the “lead-out” to what was a particularly vigorous sprint to the finish line that saw Renshaw’s HTC teammate Mark Cavendish win the stage. Have a look for yourself here …

16-07-2010 10-59-09 AM

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And the worst? Well, exactly the same thing really. The tour’s organisers say Renshaw headbutted Dean on the run to the finish and have disqualified him from the race.

Crikey reckons that organisers have got it seriously wrong and that rubbing out Renshaw is a grossly disproportionate punishment for what many see as just part of the usual argy-bargy of pro-cycling at its best.

Yesterday’s stage 11 from Sisteron to Bourg-les-Valence didn’t have any of the dramatic climbs of the previous days that shattered the field but did have a finish ideal for sprinters like Cavendish — who has described Renshaw as “the best lead-out man in the world”. And it didn’t disappoint, with a dramatic bunched sprint finish at more than 60kmh after a long haul in the kind of heat typical of the French Alps in summer.

Commentator Phil Liggett wasn’t alone when he reckoned that Renshaw deserved some sanction for his actions, as much for the apparent head-butts on Dean as for moving off his line so as to apparently push Dean’s Garmin-Transitions teammate Tyler Farrar into the barriers. But few expected that Renshaw would be booted off the tour altogether.

Understandably Renshaw wasn’t happy and in a post-race Twitter comment said that “I think today’s punishment was very harsh. I never imagined that I would ever be dq’d from the tdf. Very disappointed.”

Renshaw will surely go on to win stages, if not races, in the near future but his selfless surrender is typical of the measures that domestiques, and Renshaw is a domestique par excellence, will take to ensure that their teammates win a race.

Renshaw’s actions are widely seen as being less serious than those of another Australian well-known for his “vigorous sprinting”.

In 2005 Robbie McEwen was found to have delivered a headbutt to countryman Stuart O’Grady in the course of a sprint finish on stage three of the tour. That incident saw McEwen relegated but he was allowed to continue.

The other great headbutting incident in the tour’s history involved Erik Zabel, who initially won stage six of the 1997 tour but had reportedly fired one off in the direction of Frédéric Moncassin as they approached the finish line. Zabel was stripped of his points for the stage, but maybe his actions were just payback. Earlier that year Moncassin had been booted off the French Dauphine Libere race for headbutting Zabel’s teammate, Rolf Aldag.

The 1980 tour provided a particularly memorable example of “vigorous sprinting” when Dutch rider Henk Lubberding knocked the revered French cyclist Michel Laurent off his bike in a sprint finish at Saint Etienne. Laurent broke his collarbone in that incident and hobbled over the line carrying his bike to finish in seventh place but was later awarded the race following Lubberding’s disqualification.

There is no indication of an appeal from Renshaw’s HTC team so far but, judging by the sanctions handed down for previous “irregular sprinting”, you would think that Renshaw’s HTC team will seek to have the decision overturned or reduced to a relegation and/or stripping of points.

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