By Andrew Hood
Discovery Channel officials said they felt “robbed” of victory in the Eneco Tour following the controversial finish to Wednesday’s finale when German rider Stefan Schumacher caused George Hincapie to crash less than 100 meters from the line.
Schumacher barged Hincapie’s line and sent the race leader toppling to the ground in disbelief and anger as the Gerolsteiner rider took four bonus seconds with third-place to claim overall victory by one second.
“It was so unfair what happened to him,” Discovery Channel sport director Dirk Demol told VeloNews. “George felt so strong and the team did an excellent job the last three days, then they steal your victory away like that. He felt terrible afterward.”
Schumacher started the 201km seventh and final stage three seconds behind race-leader Hincapie, but the German rider said he was forced to surge to his right in the final sprint to avoid rowdy fans leaning over the barrier.
His rear wheel undercut Hincapie’s front tire, who later crossed the line and was awarded the same time as the main bunch, but lost the race by one second with the time bonuses going in Schumacher’s favor.
“It was sure he was going to win it. The moment Schumacher crashed into him, he was coming up on the right side and it was still possible for [George] to finish second in the stage,” Demol said. “It was clear that Schumacher crashed into George. Normally, a rider who does that is relegated or disqualified. There was nothing George could do.”
Demol and Hincapie immediately took a challenge to the UCI jury. Four members watched the film and didn’t take long to decide that Schumacher would remain the winner.
“They said Schumacher didn’t do it on purpose and there was nothing they could do,” Demol said. “It was like they were happy with the decision they made.”
Demol even tried to talk to Gerolsteiner officials, but the team wanted nothing to do with the Discovery crew.
He said the team will challenge the decision to the UCI’s disciplinary commission, but Demol is not holding out much hope. The team is still waiting to hear a decision from Paris-Roubaix, when Leif Hoste and Vladimir Gusev were DQ’d in a contentious ruling for riding under a railway crossing.
Demol said Hincapie wasn’t seriously injured in the crash and will return to the United States later this week. Hincapie is scheduled to conclude his 2006 season in the U.S. nationals next month.
“He’s had so much bad luck this year. Paris-Roubaix was his until he had his crash,” Demol concluded. “He was ready to win the race today and the guy who crashed into him gets the four-second bonus. This is just ridiculous.”