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LOGRONO, Spain (VN) — Nothing escapes the eye of the Internet.
Two Ag2r-La Mondiale riders who thought they were catching a sneaky ride up Sunday’s grueling Sierra Nevada climb at the Vuelta a España were in for a surprise. Video images captured them taking a tow on a team car, which soon went viral on social media.
On Tuesday, the French team sent the riders — Alexandre Geniez and Nico Denz — packing for home.
“After viewing the video footage that showed two of our riders intentionally holding onto the team car … management has decided to withdraw [the riders] from the Vuelta a España,” a team statement said.
“Ag2r-La Mondiale sincerely apologizes to the organizers and the public for the unsportsmanlike behavior of our riders, which is contrary to our values and our ethics.”
Both riders finished Sunday’s stage deep in the standings at more than 26 minutes behind winner Miguel Ángel López (Astana). The race jury did not sanction them at the time, and the incident was only later revealed via social media.
The case is another example of how video captured by fans or race media can often later shape jury decisions or force teams to take disciplinary action.
During this year’s Tour de France, the UCI race jury reversed a controversial ruling that had penalized three riders — Serge Pauwels, George Bennett, and eventual runner-up Rigoberto Urán — with time 20-second penalties when they took what was ruled as illegal feeds. Video later revealed that French rider Romain Bardet of Ag2r also took a bottle. The race jury later backpedaled on its ruling in the face of an online media onslaught of criticism.
Other incidents at the Tour de France this year underscored the growing influence of social media on race dynamics. Twitter lit up in the wake of the controversial expulsion of Peter Sagan. While the jury did not reverse its decision, the story became the talking point for the remainder of the race.
Riders taking tows via “sticky bottles” is nothing new, and race juries can often rule with a heavy hand when riders are caught red-handed. In 2015, Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali was kicked out of that year’s Vuelta when he was caught taking a blatant pull on a team car to regain contact to the leaders in stage 2.
Race juries typically only rule on infractions they witnessed directly, but the increase of videos taken by fans alongside the race course and by TV cameras is changing the rules of the game. Teams will often take independent disciplinary action even when the race jury does not.
Geniez, a two-time Vuelta stage-winner, apologized for Sunday’s Vuelta incident.
“I made a mistake by hanging onto the car,” wrote Geniez in a statement. “[The removal] is difficult, but I have to accept it. The start to my season was difficult, and I want to express that this incident does not reflect my vision of the sport.”
In March, Bardet was kicked out of Paris-Nice for a similar incident.