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Tour de France

Q&A: Tour jury president says ‘everyone must accept the rules’

Vicente Tortajada explains the Tour's decision to time cut American Ted King from the race after Tuesday's team time trial

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CAGNES-SUR-MER, France (VN) — The rules are the rules; that’s the message from Tour de France jury president Vicente Tortajada, who stood by the controversial decision to eliminate Ted King (Cannondale) for missing the time cut by just seven seconds after Tuesday’s team time trial.

As a despondent King answered questions from the media before the start of Wednesday’s stage, Tortajada and his fellow race jury commissaires waited in the village départ for the start of the fifth stage.

The decision created a rift among media and fans, who wondered why the race jury would be so strict in applying a rule that is sometimes overlooked in other instances.

Tortajada, the president of the four-member panel that made the call to eliminate King, said he was only doing his job.

Tortajada spoke to VeloNews before the start of the stage to explain why and how the decision was made to eliminate King: Can you clarify the situation with the decision to eliminate Ted King for missing the time cut?
Vicente Tortajada: It’s clear. The rule for the time control was 25 percent of the winner, and yesterday’s winner, Orica-GreenEdge went very hard and the calculation of the time limit was 32:25, King made 32:32. He passed seven seconds beyond the time limit.

VN: Was there any consideration of how close he came or factors such as his crash Monday?
VT: Before taking the decision, we considered various circumstances that could have been influencing factors. We knew that King had crashed in the first stage, but effectively he was dropped in the first 150 meters of the stage. The team started the stage knowing that they had the danger of losing a rider to the time limit. When we reviewed the decision, we saw that the rider was dropped very early, and that there were no extenuating circumstances during the stage that we should consider.

It’s not something that happened during the stage, for example, of what happened to Benjamin Noval [who was struck by a spectator early in the race and injured his hand]. When he crossed the line, we were informed by the timekeeper that he was out of the time limit. We informed [Cannondale sport director] Stefano Zanatta of the situation. They already knew that he could of have finished outside the time limit. That’s it. We didn’t know the physical condition of the rider, but he was dropped nothing more than 150 meters from taking the start. And the sport director knew the risk that the rider could have been eliminated. And in the end, the time of the winner was nearly 58 kph.

VN: What circumstances does a jury make an exemption to keep a rider or rider in a race despite missing the time cut?
VT: To make that judgment about exceptional circumstances is very delicate, because the definition of what is ‘exceptional’ sometimes comes down to the interests of each party. We try to make the fairest decision possible. We do not want to harm any particular rider or team. But we also cannot be taking decisions that might be benefiting one team or another, because then we would be having protests from all sides. These are the rules, and our job is to apply them fairly. Everyone in the race must accept the rules of the game.

VN: There has been strong public reaction, especially from the social media, that King deserves a break, that the time difference was so small, why not let him continue?
VT: Yes, yes, we are aware of this. In the end, I talked with [David] Millar. He gave me his point of view. And that’s it. It’s a situation that you have to understand. These are decisions that must be made responsibly, applying the rules, and that’s it.

VN: There have been other instances where riders or groups of riders have been allowed to continue in a race despite missing the time cut, how were those different than yesterday?
TV: Every decision must be taken individually. What happens in one race or one situation cannot be applied to another race, from year to year. Every situation is unique. These are decisions that must be made in each race, and that’s why we are here.

VN: There are also some questions about his time. King claimed that his time was faster and that he made the time cut; did he have a time beacon?
VT: In time trials, both individual and team time trials, it’s not obligatory to use the time beacon. Some teams elect to take them off. The timekeeper takes the time at the finish line electronically, but also manually. The time is correct, eh. Above all, before making the decision, we revised everything with the timekeeper. It’s not a decision we take lightly.

VN: Just to clarify, who makes the rules on such things as time limits?
VT: The rules are made before the race by both the UCI and the organizers. Each race can vary its rules on certain questions, such as time bonuses, so long as they are in accordance with UCI guidelines. For example, the rule of 25 percent time cut is one from the race. It could have been 30 percent.

VN: Can you explain how these decisions are made by the jury?
VT: I never take decisions individually. We always meet after the race with my three other colleagues on the jury. Then there six more commissaires on motorcycles, there is another one in the Skoda car, two more to make time checks, and two more at the finish line. Before reaching a decision, we collect the information, we review the situation, and apply the rules.

VN: How is the work of the commissaires organized?
VT: Every day, we have a distribution of our work for every stage. We have an outline of our duties on the day, the controls of the bikes, the business of the stage, etc. We make a rotation of our position within the race. We always have one at the end of the race, another at the front, and two more within the race. And it’s the same thing with the commissaires on the motorcycle. We have one at the front, and five others move throughout the race.

VN: Is the jury staff larger at the Tour than for other races?
VT: This is the largest team we have during the year. We have a lot of work at the Tour, the controls of the bikes, applying the rules. The Tour is the biggest race of the world, the race that has the highest profile, so we bring the most numerous team. It’s hard, the heat, the difficulty of the stages, the travel, it’s a hard job. It’s not to say that we have to make difficult decisions, but to make responsible decisions.

VN: Also yesterday, we saw a fine for Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) because he had rainbow stripes on his bike. How was that considered a violation of the rules if he is the world time trial champion as well as a member of the trade team time trial champion?
VT: Last year, it was the first year that the UCI has the TTT pro teams. As part of this, it is obliged during the rest of the year to wear a logo on the entire team that won the team time trial. And they changed the rules, in that riders before would wear their national time trial jerseys or world time trials jersey, but now they could not wear them during the team time trial stages. So, the individual world time trial champion cannot wear anything during the team time trial. And that also applies to the bicycles.

VN: That makes it quite difficult, in the sense that a rider might only have one or two time trial bikes to use all season long?
VT: At the end of the day, I did my obligation to apply the rules, but I can imagine there will be discussions on this issue in the future. Maybe next year there will be new rules.

VN: Also, can you describe how things unfolded in stage 1 when the Orica bus was trapped underneath the finish line tower?
VT: It was a difficult moment of tension. When we passed with 15km to go, the race organizers contacted our car to let us know there was a bus trapped underneath the finish-line scaffolding and it was blocking the finish line. They later confirmed it with a photo. We are speaking about the moment from passing from 15km to go to 10km to go.

Quickly, the organization asked if we were capable of taking the time at 3km to go. I said, yes, it was possible, but I have to move the ‘safe zone’ three kilometers back. In the same moment, we realized that with 3km to go, there were some traffic islands right after the banner, so it was very complicated. We announced that with about 10km to that we were going to have to make this modification, to finish the stage at 3km to go, we also decided to make the ‘safe zone’ from three kilometers to go, to six kilometers to go.

Moments later, they managed to get the Orica bus out of there, they let us know just about 6km to go that it was clear at the original finish line, then the decision was made to return the finish line back to the original. I reconfirmed that the neutral zone would remain at 6km to go rather than 3km to go, and just as we made that decision to be known, with about 4.5km to go, and that’s when there was the big crash. In cycling, we do not have a safety car like in Formula 1. This was all happening with 15km to go to the finish line, with the peloton racing at 70kph. And half the riders didn’t understand what was happening, even with the earpieces.