British rider Mark Cavendish has commended the "courage" of Tour de France jurors for disqualifying world champion Peter Sagan for a horrific crash that took both of them out of the race on Tuesday.
Speaking Wednesday, before the Tour set off without him from the spa town of Vittel on Stage 5, Cavendish said his immediate concern after he hit the deck was a profusely bleeding finger on his right hand.
"There was just a puddle of blood on the floor. I thought, 'I'm going to bleed to death here.' But my teammates were around and they helped me to my feet," he said.
The winner of 30 Tour stages in his stellar career was later diagnosed with a broken right shoulder blade and withdrew from the race. Sagan, who appeared to elbow Cavendish before he fell at high speed, stayed on his bike but was disqualified for endangering Cavendish and other riders in the sprint finish at Vittel.
Cavendish said: "It takes a lot of courage ... to eliminate the world champion from the Tour de France."
Cavendish said he bore no hard feelings toward Sagan and that his actions didn't appear malicious. He stressed that they are good friends and said Sagan called him Tuesday evening while he was being examined in hospital.
Sagan's explanation for extending his right elbow into Cavendish's path — as the Briton was speeding up alongside the Slovak, shaving the barriers — was that he was just trying to stay upright.
"He said it was keeping himself balanced, so it was nice to know. He said he didn't know it was me coming up," Cavendish said. "It was the elbow which I said I was confused about. I spoke to Peter about that.
Whether or not, it was intentional, it doesn't look great."
Cavendish dismissed suggestions that he was trying to squeeze into a space that was too small.
"I know what kind of gaps I can fit through," he said.
Cavendish praised Sagan for immediately coming to his team bus after the crash to apologize.
"It was an honorable thing to see Peter there at the bus, already come to apologize," he said. "It shows our relationship, shows the man he is and I really appreciate that more than anything."
However, he also commended the jurors for their decision to disqualify Sagan, calling them "among the most experienced jury that I've ever witnessed at the Tour de France."
"It's just sad that we'll both be out of the Tour de France," Cavendish said of Sagan and himself. "We've spoken, we're fine."
The Tour race director, Thierry Gouvenou, told The Associated Press that he supported the jury's disqualification of Sagan. He said Sagan "also was at fault" in a first crash that took down more than a dozen riders in the final stretch Tuesday, before the crash that wiped out Cavendish and others in the finishing sprint.
"Ultimately, there are no attenuating circumstances," Gouvenou said. "I think they made a good choice."
"We all complain about the crashes in the first week of the Tour. It gets to the point where the riders just have to respect each other."
© 2017 Associated Press