OUDENAARDE, Belgium (VN) — Polemics lit up the Ronde van Vlaanderen when Sky’s Luke Rowe was disqualified late in the race for riding on a bike path.
The UCI commissaires came down hard on Rowe, who bounced onto a crowded bike path filled with pedestrians just as the race was surging toward the second passage up the Oude Kwaremont. Rowe, who fought back from a broken leg to start the Flemish classics, was dismayed at the rare mid-race disqualification.
“There was an echelon on the right hand side, and there was a bit of a flick at the end. I got forced onto the bike path,” Rowe said. “It was either that or crash.”
Commissaires let it be known ahead of the classics they would be taking a harsher stance on racers dipping onto sidewalks and bike paths. Not only is it a safety issue, but also to insure the spirit of the race. Officials don’t want to see riders purposely avoiding the cobblestones and pavé that make the classics so enthralling.
Rowe countered that he did not intentionally ride on the bike path, and said he immediately slowed down to avoid hitting fans.
“I am absolutely gutted. It’s heart-wrenching. The reason I was there was no fault of my own,” he said. “As soon as I was on the bike path, it wasn’t like I was flying through spectators or try to get an advantage. I did the safest thing, braked, took my time, went back to road and took the right-hander right at the back.”
Rowe, 28, wasn’t expected to race the classics this year, let alone ride deep into Flanders. He broke his leg last summer in a rafting accident, and was expected to miss nearly a year of racing. Rehab and recovery went faster than expected.
Rowe made it up and over the Kwaremont and Paterberg climbs. The call came over the radio as the race was barreling toward the Koppenberg.
“As soon as I heard it, I pulled out. I think they made the wrong decision,” he said. “I challenge you to go out there and find a video of me on a bike path, because I doubt you’ll find one. I am honest rider. I try to race fair. I would never put spectators at risk. It was go on the bike path for 100 meters, or crash. And I chose the bike path.”
The decision comes as the UCI has introduced a new video jury to help monitor races not only from commissaires following the races on the ground, but to have an extra set of eyes on the TV screens. Rowe insists they went too far.
“The last six months trying to get back to here has been hell. Being back here was light at the end of the tunnel,” Rowe, who will skip Scheldeprijs and race Paris-Roubaix, said. “To be at the front and feeling good, and to be told to pull out of the race, it just fuels the fire. We’ll see what happens in one more week.”