The Sagan/Cavendish Crash Aftermath: Irresponsible Journalism

Yesterday there was a big crash at the end of Stage Four of the Tour de France, involving Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish. Sagan was blamed, and then ejected from the rest of the three-week race.

My gripe is that half of the news articles I've seen today are just wildly inflammatory, using phrases that make for excellent click bait, but are devoid of fact.

First, let's look at what happened. Here's a view from the front. Peter Sagan has a green helmet and a white jersey with rainbow stripes on the sleeves. Mark Cavendish has the green bike and is the first to crash:

The video includes views from the front and from above.

What I saw when I watched it live is the same thing I see when I download it and carefully inspect it frame by frame: there was contact between the two (likely Sagan's hips and Cavendish's handlebars), upon which Cavendish started to go down. Sagan's elbow then made a seemingly-instinctual reaction, jutting out as if to dislodge a fly that had landed on it. Anyone actually looking at the video carefully can't possibly refute that the crash was already underway and a foregone conclusion before there was any movement from Sagan's elbow.

Furthermore, it seems clear to me that the arm/elbow didn't even touch Cavendish.

Despite the elbow having nothing to do with it, I do think it was Sagan's fault. I believe him when he says that he didn't know Mark was there, but it's his responsibility to know the space is clear before taking it. As much as I like Peter Sagan (he's my favorite pro cyclist by far), I think he was negligent in this case.

Anyway, major news outlets are reporting that Sagan elbowed Cavendish, which besides being factually incorrect, makes it sound intentional and malicious. For example, CBS Sports:

Cavendish, booted from Tour De France
"Sagan's elbow set off a nasty crash that left Cavendish bloody and Sagan disqualified"

How can one trust anything in the article when the headline and the lead are factually incorrect? There are a lot of articles like this.

There's misinformation on both sides. The 2nd video embedded just above purports to illustrate that Sagan wasn't at fault, totally ignoring the very-relevant seconds before the video starts. Cavendish was at least partially parallel with Sagan for a couple of seconds prior to contact, so he had a right to be there. He was holing a steady line as he accelerated and was in the process of passing Sagan when Sagan's drift with the bulk of the group brought him into the space that Cavendish already occupied.

It seems factual that nobody elbowed anyone, and reasonably clear that Sagan was negligent. What's not clear to me is what the punishment should be.

I would assume that punishment for this kind of infraction would be spelled out in the rules, applied within the context of what has traditionally been allowed and what has traditionally been considered over the line. Personally, I have little experience with this stuff so I'm not in a position to say what the punishment should be, but as much as I like Peter Sagan, I can't find myself too upset at his being ejected for a crash that ended the season of one of the sport's top talents.

All 2 comments so far, oldest first...

Very good analysis, and probably the most accurate I’v seen.

In a post race interview, Cavendish said he was not well liked, and Sagan was – so everyone would blame him, not Sagan.

Cavendish is being disingenuous, he knows where the fault lies.

— comment by Laurece Baker on July 8th, 2017 at 6:51pm JST (6 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

Certainly applicable to news and society in general. Collecting data and applying rational thought has degenerated into consuming twitter snippets. The headline you quoted is a great example of what (guessing) 95% of readers are going to read and then form their opinion of the complete situation. Certainly true in medicine where someone makes a decision based on a cursory reading of an article headline and maybe the abstract without digging into the full article for all the details.

— comment by Geoff Hudson on July 14th, 2017 at 1:02am JST (6 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink
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