DUBAI (VN) — Desert winds whipped up more than sand at the Dubai Tour on Thursday as a normal battle for position ended in a punch, blood, and disqualification.
The punch was thrown by Andrei Grivko (Astana) and landed on the left eye of race leader Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors), breaking the German sprinter’s glasses and his skin and sending blood trickling down the left side of his face.
“I guess Grivko had a coffee too much this morning,” Kittel said to reporters following the stage, the large cut sitting over a swelling left eye.
Crosswinds and sand whipped the Dubai Tour peloton into three large echelons with about 100km to go, and the altercation began as a ordinary battle for position at the tail end of one of the second group. “A couple riders were taking more risks than necessary,” said Trek – Segafredo’s Kiel Reijnen, who watched the incident unfold. That included Grivko and a young Astana teammate. Kittel bumped shoulders and exchanged words with the pair, then Grivko, who has been a pro since 2005, “just came up and socked him, sucker punched him in the face,” Reijnen said.
“I don’t know what happened with [Grivko],” Kittel said. “As soon as we went into the crosswinds there was fighting for positions, of course. I think it’s totally normal that you push sometimes also each other, so I was trying to get back into the line in the crosswinds with one of his young teammates. He didn’t like that so he pushed me back and I tried to go around, came in between Grivko and his teammate. So I also had to push Grivko a little bit but didn’t take my hands off, nothing. And in the end I was trying to talk to the young guy, why he’s really taking that risk, and at that moment I got a punch in the face.”
Hours after the incident, Grivko defended himself to reporters inside his team hotel, describing aggressive riding on Kittel’s part.
“He wanted to take my place, he push me again and again, with my hand I tried to push him back, because it’s not possible, [maybe he] didn’t understand me, I don’t know,” Grivko said. “After, he broke the glasses, he was really angry.”
“You must win with the legs, not with the shoulders,” Grivko said. “In the sprint, I understand it’s a battle for position. But in the middle of the race, it’s not normal.”
Grivko nonetheless accepted the jury’s decision to remove him from his first race of the year.
“I agree with this decision, for me, it’s no problem. But everybody must respect each other. Okay, he’s a leader, but he can’t push riders off the road. It’s dangerous for everybody,” he said.
According to riders who witnessed the incident, Kittel did not react physically to the punch. He worked his way back to the race commissaire’s car, and then the doctor. The bunch was already slowing in protest of the hectic, sand-blasted conditions, and when the race leader sat up, so did the rest of the field.
Kittel was off the pace in the sprint at the end of the stage, which was won by Trek’s John Degenkolb, but retains his overall lead by eight seconds over LottoNL – Jumbo’s Dylan Groenewegen. Degenkolb sits in third, two seconds further back, heading into the Hatta Dam stage, a sharp kicker of a finish he won in 2015.
At first, it was unclear whether the race jury could make any definitive action against Grivko, given that the commissaires themselves had not witnessed the incident and there was no video footage. But in the end, the weight of multiple witnesses and the clear evidence of Kittel’s injury appear to have persuaded the jury to take action. At press time, Grivko had been disqualified from the stage, removed from the race, and handed a 200 CHF fine.
The UCI can follow up that decision with a longer ban, which would be handed down by the UCI’s Disciplinary Commission. Rule 12.1.004 states: “Anyone who behaves in an incorrect or dishonest fashion with regard to any other … shall be penalized by a suspension of up to three months and/or a fine of between CHF100 and CHF 10,000.”
Kittel said he would support such a move.
“He should get a ban for the next six months maybe,” the German sprinter said. “It’s a terrible disappointment for cycling, it’s a shame for this race. It’s a shame for the sponsors for this team and I really don’t understand how he can show this kind of reaction. Of course, it’s a moment where you have a lot of emotion, it’s like a sprint being in the crosswinds, but it doesn’t give him the right to punch someone else into the face.”
Reijnen agreed. “That’s not the way to react, and a lot of credit to Marcel for not reacting to that. He stayed calm,” he said. “Twenty of us saw it, and I think the right thing to do is suspend the rider for that kind of behavior. It’s not good for the sport. I think it should be a pretty straightforward deal.”
Astana apologized to both Kittel and his team via Twitter following the race, and Grivko sent Bernard Eisel (Dimension Data) as a liaison to apologize to Kittel in person. But for Kittel, a mere apology was not enough.
“There is a very thin line that you can cross,” Kittel said. “I mean if you have an argument in the race you have an argument, you talk about it, OK, and maybe even you touch the other guy a little bit, no problem. I have no problem with that, but as soon as he injures someone, he takes the risk to injure me and maybe he injures my eye — it’s over, there’s no feeling sorry, there’s no apologize. It’s just done.”