SAINT-MALO, France (AFP) – An improving Matt Goss missed out on contending victory on stage 10 of the Tour de France, but was ultimately left relieved at not being wiped out of the race completely.
Marcel Kittel of Argos dominated a group sprint Tuesday to win the finish gallop ahead of fellow German Andre Greipel, but the stage ended in controversy as his teammate Tom Veelers came crashing down in the last 150 metres.
Veelers had slowed down after finishing off leading out Kittel and the Dutchman found himself crashing to the ground at speed after Britain's Mark Cavendish barged into him from the right-hand side.
Goss had been sitting just behind Kittel before the German moved up the left-hand side to prepare his winning sprint, only to find himself in a split-second fight for survival.
The Aussie had to employ some slick bike-handling skills, veering quickly off to the left, to avoid Veelers as he and his bike spilled across the road.
Asked how he avoided crashing, the Orica-GreenEdge man said: "If you could tell me, I've got no idea. Complete luck.
Veelers' "bike shot straight out in front of me and usually when that happens it's day over. It bounced off my front wheel and off my leg and shot me towards the barrier".
As well as almost taking him out the race, the incident ended Goss' hopes of fighting for a stage win. He said he had been feeling the best he'd been all race.
"I was still a little bit off the ground but I managed to stop it and turn myself away from the barrier, but my foot had clipped out of the pedal so by the time I got that back in....," he added.
"Today I felt the best I'd felt all race. I was in perfect position, I was on Kittel's wheel. It would have been a hard ask to come around because it's such a tricky little sprint but I could have been confident of a good result."
Veelers, who sustained no serious injuries but admitted he was "bruised and scratched", said: "I think it's clear to see on the video that he (Cavendish) is riding me into the ground."
But asked if Cavendish should be disqualified, the Dutchman replied: "I'll leave that up to the jury. I'm not the one who decides."
Remarkably, race jury president Vicente Tortajada Villarroya cleared Cavendish of any wrongdoing.
"Veelers had done his job for Kittel, he was tired and he was looking down. If we have to blame anyone, it is Veelers," said the Spanish official.
"There has been no complaint from Argos, but we were not considering sanctions or a disqualification."
Cavendish, the British champion and the winner of 24 stages on the race, finished third and later declared his innocence.
"The commissaires are already putting the blame on me... you can see he (Veelers) moves a little bit right, I move a little bit left, it's not like I took his wheel, I'm following the road," he said.
"It was the arms that touched anyway."
However, the incident made waves among some riders. Greipel finished second and his Kiwi teammate Greg Henderson said on Twitter: "Big congrats Argos and @marcelkittel. Really hope Tom Veelers is ok. Completely knocked off his bike unnecessarily. That's not professional."
The sprinters will have a chance to mix it up again on stage 12, a 218 km ride from Fougeres to Tours.
Before then, 2011 champion Cadel Evans will look to close his gap of 4:36 to race leader Chris Froome in Wednesday's 33 km time trial from Avranches to Mont Saint Michel.
While Germany's Tony Martin is the favourite, Sky team leader Froome is expected to increase his advantage over the Australian and several other rivals.
Evans said: "The legs are okay and of course I'm thinking about tomorrow.
"It's coming together well but I think tomorrow is going to be a good indicator, not just for me, but for everyone in the top 10 or 15 how we are going to progress on the next part of the Tour."