AP SPORTS WRITER
BOURG-LES-VALENCE, France -- In the frenzied and dangerous mass sprints at the Tour de France, competitors often need to keep their heads.
Mark Renshaw decided to use his.
The Australian lead-out man for sprint specialist Mark Cavendish was kicked out of the race after head-butting a rival Thursday, which cleared a path for his British teammate to win his third stage at this year's Tour.
"This is cycling. It's not wrestling," said course director Jean-Francois Pescheux, who called Renshaw's aggressive tactics "flagrant" and the punishment necessary. "There are rules to respect."
Andy Schleck of Luxembourg retained the yellow jersey, and rode conservatively during the 114.6-mile ride from Sisteron to Bourg-les-Valence so that he could save his energy for tough climbs in the Pyrenees during the final week.
The 25-year-old race leader cruised into the finish in the main pack after riding part of the stage discussing a vacation with his main rival, defending champion Alberto Contador.
"It was quiet and we can act like normal people," Schleck said through a translator. "So we spoke about -- we remembered -- our holidays."
It wasn't nearly so quiet near the front of the pack, at least at the finish line.
With the sprinters' teams barreling toward the finish at about 40 miles per hour, Renshaw rammed his head three times into the shoulder of Julian Dean of New Zealand, the lead-out man for American sprinter Tyler Farrar on Garmin-Transitions. It was an apparent bid to push Dean, who was then in the lead, out of the way during the final sprint.
After reviewing video of the finish, the race jury said Renshaw was "removed from the competition for a particularly serious case." They also said the HTC Columbia rider was fined 200 Swiss francs (about $192) for a grave case of "irregular sprint."
"I'm extremely disappointed and also surprised," Renshaw said. "I never imagined I would be removed from any race, especially the Tour de France. I pride myself on being a very fair, safe and a straight-up sprinter, and never in my career have I received a fine or even a warning."
After the head-butts, causing Dean to shake his head in apparent exasperation, he appeared to swerve in front of Farrar. That allowed Cavendish to spurt ahead in the final 300 meters, with Alessandro Petacchi of Italy in second and Farrar in third.
"I only saw open space on my left. I had no idea Tyler Farrar was there," Renshaw said. "By no means would I ever put any of my fellow riders in danger."
Cavendish rushed to Renshaw's defense, alleging that Dean had tried to elbow his teammate.
"Mark used his head to get away," Cavendish said. "There's a risk when your elbow's that close (that) the bars are going to tangle. That puts everybody behind in danger. Mark gave us a bit of space which kept everybody upright."
Farrar was stunned by the events.
"They don't need to ride like that," he said. "They need to think about the safety of everybody, and let the fastest man win."
After feeling three "hits" on his side, Dean said he was "a little bit astounded that this conduct was taking place," and said he felt shaken as he crossed the line in 23rd place.
Of course, the two riders were almost destined for antagonism: Dean is from New Zealand, Renshaw from Australia; they're both pilots, or lead-out men, for top sprinters; and their two American teams have a simmering rivalry.
"Yeah, if you start making a list of the potential opposites, we have a lot," Dean told The Associated Press by phone after the stage.
The stage was mainly flat, and thus favored sprinters. The general classification didn't change, with all the top contenders finishing behind the sprinters in the main pack.
Schleck earned the yellow jersey for a third straight day, while Contador remained 41 seconds back. His fellow Spaniard, Samuel Sanchez, is 2:45 behind in third.
Seven-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong, who has already ruled himself out of contention for the title, lost time for the second straight day. He finished in 114th place, 29 seconds behind the pack, and is 17:51 behind Schleck in 32nd place overall.
The stage Friday is a bit more bumpy, with five mid-grade climbs during the 130.8-mile stage from Bourg-de-Peage to Mende in rural southeastern France.