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Tour de France

Tour de France: What was Alberto Bettiol thinking?

The Italian appeared to chase down his own teammates over the cobbles with Robbie McEwen asking if he's signed to Tadej Pogačar's team for 2023.

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“My question is why on earth is Alberto Bettiol doing this when he has two riders in the break?”

That was former pro turned television commentator Robbie McEwen who was so perplexed with the EF Education–EasyPost rider’s tactics on stage 5 of the Tour de France that he pondered whether Bettiol had broken team orders.

In fact McEwen was so puzzled and exasperated by Bettiol’s antics after the Italian had at several points chased down his own teammates with Tadej Pogačar on his wheel that the Australian and his fellow commentators suggested that Bettiol might have been working for Pogačar with a move to UAE Team Emirates in the works for next season. That suggestion seemed almost legit when Bettiol put his arm around Pogačar after the pair had gone 1-2 through one particular sector of cobbles.

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“Yes position is important,” the Australian would add during his Eurosport commentary. “I get it, be there, but you’ve got two riders in the break to win the stage or gain significant time. It’s not on. It’s nuts! There’s no excuse, this is an absolute brain fade.”

The Australian had a point. Not once but several times during an epic stage on the cobbles television cameras showed Bettiol blasting to the front of the GC group in order to set a furious pace for those on his wheel, including Pogačar.

There were two considerable problems with the Italian’s approach. First and foremost he had two teammates up the road in a position to win the stage and or take the yellow jersey. Secondly, Bettiol’s role should have been to protect the American team’s pre-race GC asset Rigoberto Uran who needed as much support through the cobbles as possible.

Instead, the former Tour of Flanders winner hammered through several sectors as if team tactics were a thing of the past. He hit the first of 11 sectors of the pavé on the front of the peloton with 73km to go and with Pogačar glued to his wheel and then went through the exact same process with 27km to go when the break that contained both Magnus Cort and Neilson Powless had just over a minute of an advantage. Again, Bettiol seemed to be looking back to check on Pogačar’s position.

“You have to ask what they’re doing here,” asked two-time Paris-Roubaix winner Sean Kelly when he took up the mic on Eurosport.

“This is one that I’m totally puzzled by,” the Irishman added before McEwen repeated his question from earlier in the day with “is he going to UAE next year, Bettiol? Because that’s not done, that’s so off. That stinks.”

In the end Powless narrowly missed out on the stage, taking fourth as Simon Clarke took the win. Powless also missed out on the yellow jersey by 14 seconds after a huge comeback from overnight leader Wout van Aert. The Belgian rider and his Jumbo-Visma team set a furious pace in the closing kilometers to limit their losses and save yellow but it was legitimate to ask whether Bettiol’s antics had cost Powless the honor of wearing the yellow jersey for the first time in his career.

“I don’t think there was any bad intention,” EF boss Jonathan Vaughters told VeloNews on the evening after the stage.

“I think Alberto got a little too excited. It’s been a long time since he’s had good legs. He’s had very serious health issues to overcome. And he’s done that. Today he felt great. And lost his head a bit. It was a mistake. But all is well. We move forward.”

When asked if Powless had lost the chance to take yellow because of Bettiol’s tactics, Vaughters pointed to the ride by Van Aert instead for the reason his team missed out on yellow.

“No. If Pogačar had been in yellow, the answer would be yes. Unfortunately…. But that isn’t the reality. WVA chased from behind on his own power. So. WVA deserves the yellow.”

So is Bettiol going to UAE Team Emirates next year? The Italian has a contract with EF-Education EasyPost until until December 31, 2024, which was confirmed by Vaughters.