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The Anatomy of a Crash: How Does It Work?

By Christopher Ashley

In the summer of 2017, Peter Sagan was disqualified from Le Tour de France following a collision with his arch-rival Mark Cavendish. Cavendish was badly injured and arguments about who was at fault spread like wildfire across social media. Let’s see it at full speed.

The race referees had the difficult decision of whether or not to disqualify the incumbent favourite for the Škoda Green Jersey. In the following days, months, and years, armchair referees have, with varying degrees of success, poured over the forensics. Here’s what we love and what we’ll ignore from each analysis.

The frame by frame

I love this video for its outlandishly documented analysis of what’s happening in every frame of the footage. Some of my favourite notes are, “Cavendish brake lever hooks under Sagan’s right arm” but not before, “Cavendish looks alarmed & stops pedalling”.

I’m sure you’ll join me in mourning the lack of bullet-time capability but, fortunately, much of Le Tour is filmed at extremely high frame-rates.

We love: The detail
We’ll ignore: The complete disregard for real-time thought processes

The psychic

Not many of us have been in a pro-tour peloton and, most of the time, most of the peloton aren’t in a position to compete for the big points in a sprint. So, not many of us really know what it’s like, which is why I love The Psychic’s ability to understand that, “Sagan decided to chase Demare”.

I’ve willing to bet that even Sagan may struggle to accurately recall what was really going through his mind when the adrenaline and testosterone are finally engaged after a brisk 200-km ride into Vittel. I disagree with The Psychic because it’s likely Sagan knew other cyclists were around him – but I’m sympathetic to the argument that he believed he was taking a fair line into the sprint.

We love: The certain knowledge of Sagan’s mind
We’ll ignore: Any certain knowledge of Sagan’s mind

The rules’ analyst

This is such a wonderfully scientific video and differs from the previous two in one key factor – the rules are what determine the outcome of the UCI judgement. What physically happened in the event is one thing – it’s the action’s context within the rules of the race that really matters.

So, while the footage is helpful and more detailed than ever before, you have to work through the often impenetrable rules of the race to arrive at a fair decision. That decision is then subject to appeal – and Sagan and the UCI came to an amicable decision after the UCI accepted that the crash was unfortunate and unintentional.

We love: That people care about the rules
We’ll ignore: Actually reading the rules

The long-term result is that in February of this year, the UCI announced that it would expand its use of video referees to 20 leading races. Unsurprising when you think of the consequences of getting it wrong.