Bardet apologizes following Paris-Nice expulsion

Romain Bardet pleads "mea culpa" post-race via Twitter for actions resulting in his ejection from the first stage of Paris-Nice on Sunday.

Romain Bardet’s post-race Twitter said it all, “Mea culpa.”

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France’s biggest star was kicked out of the first stage of Paris-Nice on Sunday after crashing and taking liberty with technical support from his Ag2r-La Mondiale vehicle as he tried in vain to chase back.

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At the end of the stage won by fellow Frenchman Arnaud Démare (FDJ), the race jury didn’t take long to disqualify him and kicking him out of Bardet’s first major goal of the 2017 season. Barely a day after telling the French media he was targeting Paris-Nice, last year’s Tour de France runner-up was out of the race.

“We made a mistake due to the fact we weren’t thinking straight at a key moment in the stage, mainly as a result of my crash and the circumstances of a fantastic and animated stage,” Bardet said. “I am deeply sorry for my actions because nothing justifies taking advantage of the extensive assistance I received from the team car for mechanical repairs.

“This practice, too often tacitly accepted within the peloton, must now be guarded against in order to ensure the integrity of our sport.”

After crashing with about 20km to go, the 26-year-old was caught by TV cameras motor-pacing behind a team car and taking pulls as a mechanic leaned out to make real-or-imagined adjustments to Bardet’s derailleur.

His expulsion is the latest high-profile penalty for riders blatantly caught taking pulls on team cars. In 2015, Vincenzo Nibali was kicked out of the Vuelta a España after taking pulls on this then-Astana team car.

Team boss Vincent Lavenu said it was “my fault,” adding that the episode shouldn’t reflect poorly on Bardet, “I want to make clear that Romain doesn’t deserve to have a bad image when everyone knows his integrity. … What a bad day!”

Bardet is next scheduled to race the Vuelta al País Vasco (April 3-8), but Lavenu said Bardet might race the Volta a Catalunya (March 20-26).