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It was one of those items buried in the jury’s report hours after the stage had completed. In stage 14 of the 2015 Tour de France, Eduardo Sepúlveda was expelled from the race after taking a ride inside a team vehicle.
Huh? Inquiries later confirmed the real story behind the Tour rookie’s unlikely exit. The Argentine climber suffered a mechanical near the end of the stage, but his team car had missed him and stopped further up a climb. In a panic, he jumped into the back of a rival car, which dropped him off 100 yards up the road. Rules explicitly ban riders taking rides, no matter how long the distance. A race judge saw Sepúlveda take the ride and he was gone.
Returning for his sophomore effort next month, Sepúlveda is back from injury and hoping to make it all the way to Paris — without getting into a team car until after each stage.
“It’s a pleasure that I am back at the Tour. It’s a dream for me,” Sepúlveda said in a Fortuneo – Vital Concept release. “Despite my injury, the team expressed confidence in me, and the objective will be at the front in the high mountains.”
The 25-year-old Sepúlveda could be the GC rider that Argentina has long been waiting for. South America’s second largest nation has produced some quality track riders and sprinters, including the Haedo brothers and Max Richeze, who is heading to the 2016 Tour with Etixx – Quick-Step, but Argentina is still waiting for a top climber similar to who has come out of Colombia. JJ Haedo made history in 2011 as the first Argentine to win a stage in a grand tour, taking stage 16 at Vuelta a España. He started the Tour de France the following season.
Sepúlveda won’t be a revolutionary rider like Nairo Quintana has become to Colombia, but he could do well. He’s shown promise in shorter stage races and he fends well in the deep, high mountains. Whether he can continue to develop will be tested during this Tour.
“I just don’t know how my body will hold up for three weeks,” Sepúlveda said. “Two years ago, I missed the Tour due to a knee injury. Last year, what happened, happened, so I hope to get a result that will help me forget about all of that. Someday I hope to smile and take something out of the race.”
His first two Tour attempts haven’t gone well. In 2014, a planned debut was derailed with a knee injury. Last year, well, you know how that story ended.
After riding at the UCI’s World Cycling Center, he was a stagiaire in 2012 with FDJ and then linked up with Bretagne – Séché (now Fortuneo – Vital Concept) in 2013 to post some promising results. In 2014, he was fifth at Critérium International and took his first pro wins in 2015 — first at the Classic Sud Ardeche ahead of Julien Loubet (Marseille 13 KTM) and Fabio Felline (Trek – Segafredo) and the Tour du Doubs, once again ahead of Loubet.
This season started off well, with a stage and second overall at the Tour de San Luís, when he out-climbed the Quintana brothers. He crashed, however, on February 28 at the Drome Classic, sidelining him with an injury until the Tour of Luxembourg in June.
Despite the injury, team boss Emmanuel Hubert said Sepúlveda is their man for the GC.
“Eduardo is our natural leader, and our ambitions are with him,” Hubert said. “Chris-Anker [Sorensen] has a lot of experience, and is an ideal support rider for Eduardo in the mountains.”
Sepúlveda will join Danish climber Sorensen, Florian Vachon, and Anthony Delaplace as anchors as the French team returns to the Tour as a Pro Continental invitee.
“We’ll support Eduardo for the GC,” said Sorensen, back for his fifth Tour start. “We will attack and take our chances in hunting for a stage. For me, it would be a dream to win a stage.”
A spell in the climber’s jersey or perhaps even a stage win would be huge for the small French team. It won’t be easy. The last time a non-WorldTour team won a stage was the 2010 Tour de France.