It didn’t look good from where I was sitting, on the sofa, better placed than anyone in Rio to pass judgement, especially with my extensive knowledge of track racing.
Mark Cavendish, high up on the boards as the Omnium racers come out of the bend on the 51st lap of a 160-lap race, looks behind him and then cuts straight into Elia Viviani. It’s not just a graze, this is a body blow. Viviani goes sprawling, Park Sang Hoon, the South Korean rider behind goes down, the race is neutralised, stretchers are brought out, the Korean remains motionless.
It can sometimes appear that crashes follow Cav around like a bad smell. There was a pileup at the 2010 Tour de Suisse, then the 2014 crash on stage one of the Tour de France to name two. There have been bumps and jostles which many will say are all part of a sprinter’s day. If it’s your job to win sprint finishes, you’re going to make sure no one gets in your way, aren’t you?
So you could say he has form, but did that make him culpable in Rio? Certain Twitter users certainly seemed to think so. If the Twitterati had anything to do with it, Cav would have been manhandled off his bike and out of the velodrome, tarred, feathered and dumped in a favela. One of the dodgy ones.
Thankfully the judges at Rio are not influenced by virtual juries.
I don’t have an extensive knowledge of track racing and that is why to me Cav’s move looked dangerous and intentional. The difference is that I didn’t immediately grab my phone and furiously bang out a tweet demanding the disqualification of Cav on the basis of said less than superior knowledge. That’s not what Twitter is for anyway, it’s for publicly shaming train companies.
There was a balance, not everyone was calling for Cav's head but I was surprised by the amount of people who should have known better also demanding action, but then it did happen in a split second and even in slow motion you could have thought this was entirely deliberate.
Except for a few things. First, this isn’t Wacky Races. Cav would be mad to deliberately attempt that manoeuvre in front of a velodrome full of spectators and expect to get away with it, and besides, it would have taken a degree of planning, positioning himself in such a spot along the track. Maybe he saw the opportunity to take Viviani out and went for it, some will argue, and Cav would have stood to gain from taking the gold medal contender out of the game at that point in the race, it’s true.
But the judges saw things differently and so did Viviani. At that point on the track, a rider is forced down the boards by necessity and gravity. If he doesn’t make that turn he’s going to end up in the stands. If you watch subsequent laps other riders take exactly the same line as Cav. You can crop that footage to make it appear that Cav deliberately rides into Viviani. You can crop out their position on the track, you can crop out the other riders so it looks as if it’s only the pair of them out there. You can then take Cav’s form and reach a conclusion.
Will it be the right one? Cav caused the crash, but was it deliberate? Who are we to judge, really?
The race was neutralised for ten laps and then the judges allowed it to restart after examining the footage and allowing Cav to continue. Viviani and Cav made up, Viviani wasn’t too upset, Viviani got gold.
And guess what? Today the Twitterstasi, those who know better than a panel of Olympic judges, they’re still bleating on about it.
In 140 characters or less.