PISMO BEACH, California (VN) — The people have spoken here at the Amgen Tour of California.
And many of the riders and team directors disagree with the UCI race jury’s decision on Wednesday to neutralize the final 3.4 kilometers of racing. The move negated the action in race’s chaotic final eight kilometers, which saw race leader Tejay van Garderen (EF Education First) crash and then mount an unsuccessful chase to catch the surging peloton.
Van Garderen crossed the line nearly a minute after stage winner Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-Quick Step). The jury’s decision to give him the same finishing time as Jakobsen came down nearly 20 minutes after the stage ended.
So, what did riders and directors think? VeloNews conducted interviews and informal conversations with 20 or so riders and team directors at the start line in this Southern California beach town. Answers were diplomatic, and more than a few riders declined to answer the question at all. However the majority of individuals felt the UCI jury had made the wrong decision. Here’s what they had to say:
EF was still chasing
Van Garderen’s crash at 8.4km to go came at an unfortunate moment, because the peloton was just about to rumble off of the wide, straight highway 1 and onto the twisting and narrow roads around Morro Bay. Prior to the stage, Deceuninck-Quick Step had targeted these roads as a place to ramp up the pace in hopes of catching out some GC favorites.
“We saw this finish two years ago and we knew there will be breaks in the peloton,” said Deceuninck sport director Wilfried Peeters. “That is why we ride so hard.”
Indeed, Deceuninck’s pace setting on the front of the group is what made it so hard for the entire EF team to catch back on—Michael Morkov and Kasper Agreen were driving the chase for the final 4km. Numerous sources who spoke to VeloNews said the UCI’s jury decision negated Deceuninck’s savvy tactics. The Belgian team, thus, went unrewarded for studying the map and crafting a plan to decimate the peloton and put its riders in an advantageous position.
Plus, other sources felt that the crash, which occurred at 3.4km to go, occurred well before the EF riders had gotten back to the field. So, if the jury felt the need to neutralize the race, then why not simply give the same finishing time to the riders who were in the peloton at the time of the crash?
“They give everybody the same time who was involved in the crash—I agree with this. But the riders who were chasing behind? No way,” said Dirk Demol, director for Katusha-Alpecin. “This is something I have never seen, and it was completely incorrect.”
Uphold or abandon the 3km rule
Other riders and directors felt that the UCI’s 3km to go rule was to blame for the confusion. The rule (UCI rule 2.6.026) states that should a rider crash or suffer a mechanical on a flat stage inside 3km from the finish, he will be given the same time as the finishers. Some felt that the 3km mark is arbitrary. Why not instead target a specific feature of the course—perhaps a pinch point or a feature where the sprinting action should begin—and simply draw the line there?
“Just get rid of the 3km rule and make it discretionary. Yesterday we could have had a GC race until 7km to go, everyone is safe on the big wide highway, and then you let the sprinters take over,” said Jackson Stewart, director at CCC Team. “If the rules are going to be subjective, then we should look at every sprint stage, pick a safe point, get the GC guys there and then stop the watch.”
Since the UCI still maintains the 3km rule, others felt that the jury should uphold a black-and-white interpretation of the rule. If a crash happens anywhere outside of 3km to go, then the jury should rule accordingly.
“You have rules, and if they aren’t followed, you have anarchy and it sets a bad precedent for the sport,” said Mike Sayers, a director for USA Cycling’s national team. “Sometimes [the 3km rule] subjective, and sometime’s it’s objective. It needs to be one or the other, and not floating in between.”
What goes around should come around
Riders seemed to be more conflicted with the decision. Some said they didn’t want to see van Garderen lose the jersey in an accident, however they felt that rules should be upheld in a black-and-white manner. Others said they could not separate their personal feelings from the ruling.
“I like Tejay and so I support it,” said one rider.
Bernhard Eisel (Dimension Data), a 19-year veteran of the pro peloton, said he has seen rules applied in and against his favor throughout his career. A rider must understand that sometimes the decision goes in your favor, and sometimes it does not.
“The rules are always stretched now and then, and sometimes it is in your favor and sometimes it is not,” Eisel said. “I understand why Quick Step is angry. So, I think EF should ride the front at a nice and steady pace for today and tomorrow to make up for that.”
Like Deceuninck, Dutch team Jumbo-Visma faced a setback due to the ruling. It’s GC leader, George Bennett, finished in the group, and was set to make up time on van Garderen before the jury gave the field the same time.
Grischa Niermann, sport director at Jumbo-Visma, said he would have liked to have seen the race jury create a firm spot for the neutralization prior to the stage—even if it was moved back from 3km to go.
Niermann said he just hopes the next time that Jumbo-Visma finds itself on the back foot late in a race, that the UCI jury smiles on his riders.
“The problem is the next time something like this happens, and if it happens to us, I hope that the same rules are applied,” Niermann said. “I hope we are treated the same.”