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Tour de France

Commentary: Moscon must go

Sky needs to kick Gianni Moscon off the team, for its own sake, and because it is simply the right thing to do.

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CARCASONNE, France (VN) — By now you’ve likely read about Gianni Moscon and the punch seen ’round the peloton.

Moscon, for some unknown reason, punched Frenchman Elie Gesbert in the head during Sunday’s stage 15 of the Tour de France. The peloton zipped along in a tight group. An errant flick of the handlebars could have sent dozens of riders crashing onto the tarmac in such a situation. Yet Moscon looked back to his left, swerved to his right, and swung his fist. Whack!

Cycling is dangerous enough without fists flying at the riders’ skulls. The race jury agreed and gave Moscon the boot, classifying the incident as “particularly serious aggression.”

Sky has been opaque on how it will deal with Moscon after this latest incident, releasing a statement that simply said: “We will address this incident with Gianni once the Tour is complete and decide then if any further action should be taken.”

It’s perfectly clear to me that Sky should fire Moscon, and yes, I do realize the seriousness of calling for a rider to lose his job. He’s a repeat offender—in the past 16 months he has insulted a fellow rider with a racist slur, cheated, and been accused of intentionally crashing a fellow rider (the UCI acquitted him of the final offense due to a lack of video evidence). The punch, in my eyes, is a step too far. Moscon put riders in danger and embarrassed a global sport that is trying to bring riders of various cultures and nationalities under its umbrella. Boot him.

Plus, Moscon’s actions also show a remarkable lack of judgement when it comes to his team’s objectives at this race. Sky entered this Tour with three likely objectives: Win, avoid bad press, not get mobbed by angry French fans. On the rest day press conference, the team and its yellow jersey wearer Geraint Thomas didn’t dwell on the loss of a domestique.

“Obviously disappointed, there’s nothing we can do,” Thomas said. “What’s done is done. All we can do is focus on this next week.”

Now, Thomas and Sky must ride into the Pyrenees with one fewer support rider. Moscon was chosen to pull the peloton across flat and rolling terrain. Now, that job could go to Jonathan Castroviejo, Wout Poels, or Michal Kwiatkowski — three men who are also valuable in the mountains.

And if you thought winning the Tour de France was difficult, try resuscitating Team Sky’s battered image in the eyes of cycling fans. Keeping Moscon on the squad is not a winning PR move.

On Sunday night the buzz around the medieval French town of Carcassonne was whether Sky should terminate its contract with Moscon after the incident. Keep him or can him?

Yes, there is still a debate on this topic. I can assure you, the “keep Moscon” camp is dwindling. Allow me to give my best summary of this position: To boot Moscon from the peloton’s richest team would likely spell disaster for a young rider with otherworldly talent. He would be banished from cycling’s top league, and wallow in the lower ranks, squandering his talent. His possible victories at Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders would be lost forever.

There are other arguments: Moscon simply made a mistake. He was provoked. He released a YouTube video and looked genuinely apologetic. “What happened was wrong and was a bad example coming from me to everyone,” he said. “I want to publicly apologize for what happened, to my teammates, to everyone involved in Team Sky, and everyone involved in the Tour de France.”

Monday’s rest day press conference was supposed to be the usual question-and-answer exchange about race tactics. Instead, an army of pushy journalists arrived at Sky’s press conference to pester David Brailsford and Co. about Moscon. Brailsford, who often pushes back against such questions, fell on his sword. He apologized to the race. He apologized to Fortuneo-Samsic, and to Gesbert.

Sorry Sir Brailsford, I’m not convinced. Send him back down to cycling’s bush leagues. Take a stand and make him pay the consequences.

Brailsford has had several opportunities to fire Moscon, and thus far he has passed on each one.  April, 2017: Moscon is suspended six months by Sky for verbally abusing FDJ rider Kevin Reza with an unspecified racial slur during the Tour of Romandie. September, 2017, Moscon is ejected from the UCI world road championships for holding onto a team car. October, 2017, Moscon is accused of intentionally crashing out Sebastian Reichenbach of FDJ, who had called Moscon out on Twitter after the Reza incident. A UCI jury later acquitted Moscon due to a lack of video evidence, something Reichenbach said would prove his case.

The Reza incident alone would have led me to drop Moscon off at the nearest rest stop, pink slip in hand.

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Sky must now ride back into enemy territory — the rural backroads of France — with its public image further tarnished. Thus far, this Tour de France has seen French fans act like a mob of teenagers toward the Sky train. They have booed and hissed, thrown water and even pushed Sky riders on the road. On Monday, a Sky driver said fans threw a bucket of water into the open window of his truck atop l’Alpe d’Huez.

Brailsford chalked the abuse up to the French fans. Perhaps it’s all just a “French cultural thing.”

Sorry, Sir Dave, it’s not a French thing. It’s a Sky thing. And with Moscon aboard, it’s not getting better.