Curmudgeonly race officials showed no mercy on Tuesday after kicking out 30-year-old Tour debutant Ted King because he finished seven slender seconds outside the official cut-off point.
The Canondale rider had already battled his way through excruciating pain to even make it to Nice, but according to official timekeepers Festina he finished the 25km team time trial in 32:32.
That meant he missed the 25 per cent time limit by one second less than Greg LeMond's total advantage over Laurent Fignon in the famous 1989 Tour finale in Paris. Not a bad effort considering that his injury-wracked body meant that he'd had to leave his team-mates to go on ahead of him, but not enough for tour organisers who applied the letter of the law and threw him out of the race.
This was the same Ted King who crashed heavily on stage one owing to the chaos brought about by the race organisers' rather ham-fisted handling of the Orica-GreenEdge bus debacle.
The same Ted King who effectively soloed a team time trial event on a road bike (not a special aerodynamic TT bike) in a bid to ease the excruciating pain from separating his left shoulder in that avoidable opening day pile-up.
Separating is what you do after a tough marriage. Not something you should have done to a limb - especially a limb needed to ride a rather demanding limb-reliant bike race.
And yet King pressed on through two tortuous days in the Corsican hills. There was no way that King, in his debut Tour at the relatively old age of 30, was not going to at least make it to mainland France. In his head, there was no way he was not going to make it all the way to Paris.
King was prepared to ride the whole of a team time trial on his own, in front of massive crowds on the French Riviera, just to keep his dream of reaching Paris alive - something he has been determined to do since turning professional quite late in the game in 2006.
It was cycling's equivalent of doing the walk of shame - and King did it pretty much from the moment Cannondale zipped down the ramp.
Before his team-mates had even reached the Promenade des Anglais, King stood out like a lone girl dolled up to the nines and returning home on a Sunday morning after spending the night at the flat of the professional footballer she met down the local nightclub, (let's acll it 'Legends').
But seriously, on a day that Orica-GreenEdge beat the world champions in the discipline to set a new record average speed for a TTT in any Grand Tour, King fought tooth and nail to finish within the time limit. Only to be told that he was HD - "hors delai" - by seven seconds.
King's team led the protests, staying they couldn't understand why the jury wouldn't reconsider their decision to kick a man when he was down.
"They didn't want to listen to our explanation," said Cannondale spokesman Paolo Barbieri. "Ted was racing with a shoulder injury and he raced with a road bike. He was very brave. He did not stop fighting. Those are the qualities of cycling, yet they did not want to change their minds. It is Ted's dream to race the Tour. We cannot believe it."
Support from King's fellow riders came through on Twitter thick and fast.
"We should make a little protest to allow him to start tomorrow," wrote Jani Brajkovic of Astana.
"Let's choose humanity over silly rules!! We support him to stay in!!" said Jens Voigt!!
Fellow American Timmy Duggan suggested that HD actually stood for "heroic dude".
One random voice on Twitter even raised a very salient point: "What happened today with Ted King is one reason why so many past riders felt pressured to do drugs to stay in races like the Tour."
King himself disputed that he finished outside the limit in the first place, posting a picture of his SRM numbers that showed his time at the finish to be 32:24 as opposed to the 32:32 given to him by the officials. Taking King's time, he actually made the cut by one second.
Then rumours started to spread that King, because he wasn't using the time trial machine initially set up for him, didn't even have a timing chip on his frame.
It then all became not so much an issue of whether or not ASO should disregard the race jury and overlook a seven-second time cut - but rather about whether they accurately timed King in the first place.
The controversy took a fresh twist later in the evening when the Strava-based former world junior series triathlete Lance Armstrong threw his own two cents into the ring with this explosive and provocative Tweet: "My prediction - my bud and all round good guy, Ted King, will be starting tomorrow's stage."
It is thought that the Cannondale press officers and team-management are now - rather than working on a way of getting King back into the Tour - trying their best to distance King from Armstrong lest they have deal with an even bigger PR disaster than the time Peter Sagan thought it would be fun to test the ripeness of a podium girl's peachy backside.
STAGE 4 TTT: HOT OR NOT
HOT: Orica-GreenEdge once again showed us that their train is more reliable than their bus by securing back-to-back stage wins. What next - will Cameron Meyer suddenly turn out to be the GC rider they're all banking on?
To be Devil's advocate here, Ted King was a bit of a pansy to ride the whole TTT on his own. Look at Geraint Thomas - the Welshmen with the fractured pelvis stayed with his Sky team-mates right until the final kilometre before peeling back to go solo. What about Tony Martin, who not only led Omega Pharma-Quick Step home, but came within three quarters of a second to making his young team-mate Michal Kwiatkowski swap his white jersey for a yellow one.
NOT: Argos-Shimano were one of the few teams to finish with a full quota of riders, but they did treat the TTT like a Sunday afternoon club ride. Well, at least they can be praised for consistency: they started off first down the ramp as the worst team, and finished, collectively, as the worst team.
Quite how they weren't beaten in the terrible stakes by Europcar is anyone's guess. The French team looked an utter mess from start to finish en route to finishing nineteenth and seeing their GC hope Pierre Rolland lose over a minute to his main rivals.
But the biggest NOT goes to the over-eager spectator whose camera caused a serious cut to Benjamin Noval's tendon on his left index finger. The Spaniard was bleeding heavily and finished well behind his Saxo-Tinkoff team-mates. He needs an operation - but will wait until after the Tour.
STAGE 5: CAGNES-SUR-MERE - MARSEILLE, 219KM
Eric Boyer, the former French rider who - alongside Saddles - is acting as an expert cycling consultant to television channel France 24 during the Tour, thinks there is no chance that this stage will end in a bunch sprint. The softly-spoken Frenchman - a veteran of eight Tours in the 80s and 90s - reckons that the final climb, the uncategorised Col de la Gineste, will be too much for the sprinters.
Saddles still reckons that this could be the first time we see the likes of Peter Sagan, Andre Greipel and Mark Cavendish go shoulder-to-shoulder in a bunch sprint - although it remains to be seen how Cav, suffering from bronchitis, will fare over a lumpy route that features four categorised climbs.
If Cav has been dropped by the Col de la Gineste, then you can bet your house on team-mate Sylvain Chavanel having a pop from distance in a bid to swipe the yellow jersey (the Frenchman is still just one second down on GC).
But given GreenEdge's determination to hold on to the maillot jaune until the Pyrenees on Saturday, they'll do their best to keep it all together - which will bode well for Sagan, who can finally get his win after two Poulidorian finishes. If the Slovak sensation does win, it's going to be one heck of a celebration. In fact, it's going to be three hecks of a celebration...
PLAT DU JOUR
With a Corsican bouillabaisse on our menu two days earlier, you'll have to overlook Marseille's famous rich fish stew. While pondering over the menu, have some local Pastis with water and a cube of ice - it's very refreshing, and quite a treat if you like liquorice.
Once infused with some Dutch courage, why not then go for another local delicacy - pieds paquets, or mutton feet. The dish pretty much does what it says on the tin: lamb or sheep's feet (with the hair seared off and the toe-nails clipped) are stewed for several hours in a white wine and tomato sauce alongside some wrapped offal. Yum.
It sounds just like the kind of dish they should serve the race jury while they mull over reinstating Ted King...
- Sports & Recreation