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By Rupert Guinness of The Australian
Belgian champion Ludovic Capelle has been sent home in disgrace from the Jacob’s Creek Tour Down Under for being overweight and in “embarrassing” form.
All anyone saw of the 26-year-old during his brief appearance in the 733km race was his red face of exhaustion – or his backside as he spent most time off the back of the pack.
But after he abandoned 40km into Wednesday’s 150km second stage – on the approach of the steep ascent of Checker’s Hill – the red on his face was one of humiliation.
And by Thursday, the 85kg rider’s backside was seen heading across the tarmac of Adelaide airport, towards the first plane out of the race’s host city.
Capelle was given little sympathy from his angry AG2R team director, Laurent Biondi who made the order for him to return to his home in Liege, Belgium.
To be in such bad condition and 10kg overweight was bad enough. But to be so when wearing a the Belgian national champion’s jersey was even worse.
It is especially shameful in Belgium, where one of Capelle’s predecessors as national champion is the greatest cyclist of all time, Eddy Merckx.
Asked today if he felt Capelle was embarrassed for his sub-par showing, a seething Biondi said: “Yes … that is logical. Any responsible person would be embarrassed.”
While Capelle was en-route to Adelaide airport yesterday, Biondi was open in how low he rated the Belgian’s preparation for the first international road race of the season.
“We have decided to cut short his holiday. He has left. It is better for him if he stays at home in five degrees Celsius than here,” said Biondi.
“He was very lucky to (have the opportunity) to come here. He flew here business class, was welcomed warmly … I hope he realizes his mistake and will now train seriously.”
Biondi admitted he suspected Capelle’s form might be off at a pre-Christmas training camp. But he had hoped Capelle would turn it around in time for the Tour Down Under.
“I saw he was overweight at the training camp. Somewhere since the national championship (last June) he had lost his drive,” said Biondi.
“But I didn’t know what he was doing during and after Christmas. I can’t be a policeman.”
When in Australia Cappelle was off the pace from the start. In stage one, the 47km circuit race in Glenelg on Tuesday night, he was lapped and finished two minutes down.
But it was his performance in stage two, from Hahndorf to Strathalbyn on Wednesday, that really earned the wrath of Biondi.
When Capelle declared he would be stopping, Biondi thought he would take a short cut and ride to the stage finish where he would join the team.
But instead, and without telling anyone, he rode back to the race hotel in Adelaide, showered and then went on a 150km training ride by himself.
Because of that, Biondi and his exhausted team waited in searing heat at Strathalbyn for an hour before giving up and heading back to Adelaide.
“We didn’t know where he was,” said Biondi. “This is one of the many things that makes me so angry. What would have happened had he been chosen for dope control?”
Had he been picked, Capelle probably would have missed the test. And on top of everything else, he would have been returning home with even more scandal to clean off his name.