Veelers’ job was done: he had contributed to the leadout for teammate Marcel Kittel, who went on to win the stage. Cavendish had run out of teammates and was immediately behind Veelers as the Argos-Shimano rider began to slow down. In this picture, Cavendish has just popped out of Veelers’ slipstream:
Did Cav simply underestimate the speed at which Veelers was still traveling? In the picture below, Veelers is still on his line but Cavendish already is leaning to his left. Cav is moving so fast at this moment that a collision is inevitable.
Veelers then moves slightly to his right, but it is Cav’s abrupt swing to the left that causes the contact. Even if Veelers holds his line perfectly, Cav probably takes out his front wheel.
In the picture above, that’s Peter Sagan right behind Cavendish at the moment of impact. In the picture below, we see Sagan much farther to the right and out of harm’s way:
And that’s significant because Cavendish later contended that the road was bearing to the left and that he needed to move left to avoid hitting the barriers. But Sagan, heading for the same finish line, was never in danger of hitting the barriers.
Cavendish screwed up and now his ego won’t allow him to admit it. Race officials might have relegated him, but that would have cost Cavendish 30 sprint points and effectively ended his Green Jersey hopes. Cav’s a big star and it’s good for the Tour to have him battling with Sagan, Kittel, and André Greipel all the way to Paris. Veelers, meanwhile, is a domestique and, on this occasion, a sacrificial lamb.
Ask yourself how Cavendish would have reacted if the situation were reversed, and what fate would have befallen Veelers. Cycling still takes care of its big stars. Everyone else is pack fodder.