Sagan made heavy contact with British sprinter Mark Cavendish in the sprint to the line and appeared to elbow him right before Cavendish crashed into the barriers and then to the pavement within a few hundred metres of the finish line.
Cavendish wasn’t happy with the contact he received from Sagan, who he felt hit him with an extended elbow.
“If he came across that is one thing but I am not a fan of him putting his elbow out like that,” Cavendish vented after the stage had finished.
Race organisers appeared to agree and disqualified Sagan from the 2017 Tour hours after the finish of the stage.
“Peter Sagan is disqualified from the 2017 Tour de France after today’s tumultuous sprint in Vittel,” race jury president Philippe Marien told reporters.
Compounding the controversy, Cavendish himself later pulled out of the Tour with a broken shoulder blade following the crash.
Cavendish had spent three months battling back from the Epstein-Barr virus in order to make the start line of the Tour in Dusseldorf, and his early exit will come as a bitter blow.
“I’m obviously massively disappointed to get this news about the fracture,” Cavendish said.
“The team was incredible today.
“They executed to perfection what we wanted to do this morning. I feel I was in a good position to win and to lose that and even having to leave the Tour, a race I have built my whole career around, is really sad.”
There had initially been optimism regarding Cavendish’s status as tests at a local hospital found no signs of a break.
But after he travelled to Nancy for further scans the picture changed.
“Mark suffered a fracture to the right scapula,” Team Dimension Data doctor Adrian Rotunno said.
“Fortunately no surgery is required at this stage, and most importantly there is no nerve damage.
“He’s been withdrawn from the race for obvious medical reasons, and we’ll continue monitoring him over the coming days.”
The news means the 32-year-old’s hopes of adding to his 30 career Tour stage wins and closing in on Eddy Merckx’s all-time record of 34 are over for another year.
As news broke of Cavendish’s departure, Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe team announced they had officially lodged a protest against the Slovakian’s expulsion.
Sagan came into the Tour as an overwhelming favourite to win the points leaders’ green jersey for a record-equalling sixth straight time, having won it every year since his Tour debut in 2012.
Yellow jersey holder Geraint Thomas crashed earlier in the finale but since the incident occurred within the final three kilometres, he will be credited with the same time as the winner.
Sagan had finished the bunch sprint in second but when he was disqualified it moved Alexander Kristoff into second and Andra Greipel into third.
Australia’s Michael Matthews was in the bunch finish as well and finished the stage in seventh place.
Matthews is level with reigning champion Chris Froome in the general classification, 12 seconds behind Thomas.
Team BMC’s Australia star Richie Porte failed to make any dent in the gap to Froome or Thomas and is 47 seconds adrift of the leaders in 19th overall.
Porte was around Thomas when his crash happened and was thankful not to lose any time because of the three kilometre rule before suggesting he may launch an assault on stage five.
“It wasn’t so hard but it was pretty stressful there in the final. There were a couple of big crashes. Thank god for the three kilometre rule,” Porte said.
“I’m super motivated for tomorrow. All of the guys in the team are motivated for tomorrow as well. I think we just have to see how the race goes but I expect it to be absolutely full gas. It’s the first big test of the Tour de France in 2017.”
Three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond said while Sagan is an aggressive rider, he did not deserve to be disqualified because he did not intentionally send Cavendish crashing to the ground.
“It is too harsh, I think”, American LeMond said.
“Some riders hold on to a car on the Tour and they are not kicked out.”
Overhead TV footage shows Sagan clearly elbowing Cavendish but LeMond, who won the Tour in 1986, 1989 and 1990, noted that some of the action could not be seen.
“There is a part of the overhead shot under a tree… you can’t tell if Cav’ tried to lean on him. However his (Sagan’s) response was way too severe,” he said.
“In a sprint, when you’re in front you try to close the door a little but sprints are very dangerous.”
Riders often reach 70kph in a sprint and any change of line or contact can have dramatic consequences.
“What Sagan did was wrong but was it intentional? Did he purposely send Cavendish into the barriers? I don’t think so,” said LeMond.
“I don’t think Cav’ would want him out. It’s a loss for the Tour, Peter Sagan is not an angry person or a poor sportsman.”
LeMond explained that Sagan, not being a pure sprinter, was bound to make errors.
“He’s an aggressive rider, but he’s not a pure sprinter, he is trying to take wheels,” the American said, referring to the practice of jumping from wheel to wheel to benefit from the slipstream of the pure sprinters.
“He is a little wild and today he went over the line.”
Help our journalists uncover the facts
In times like these InDaily provides valuable, local independent journalism in South Australia. As a news organisation it offers an alternative to The Advertiser, a different voice and a closer look at what is happening in our city and state for free. Any contribution to help fund our work is appreciated. Please click below to donate to InDaily.