WorldTour teams allege bush-league tactics in San Luis
There were few official protests but many complaints about how the home teams behaved when the WorldTour came to visit
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When BMC director Jackson Stewart attended the team presentation of the Tour de San Luis a week ago Sunday, he said he left with a very distinct feeling — this race belonged to the local San Luis Somos Todos squad of last year’s winner Daniel Diaz.
The team, which is sponsored by the San Luis province and whose name translates to “We are all San Luis,” went last in the presentation, to the loudest applause, and was immediately followed by fireworks to close out the show.
So Stewart wasn’t terribly surprised when, on stage 4, he saw fans, a media motorcycle, and even a team car push a San Luis Somos Todos rider up the climb of Alto de el Amago, without consequences.
Stewart said he was driving behind BMC rider Darwin Atapuma, who was battling it out for third on the stage with Lucas Euser (UnitedHealthcare) and Enzo Moyano (Somos Todos).
“Moyano was getting pushed by everyone — I saw at least four fans run and push him,” Stewart said. “In the last 700 meters, I saw a press bike roll up and just shove him right back up to Atapuma — Atapuma had launched from that little group and [the moto] just gave [Moyano] the biggest push ever, right back up there.
“The blue-shirt commissaires were right there — for sure they saw it, they were on the moto right next to him. If you’re on the climb, and you’re a ref, you’re only looking at the bike race.”
Atapuma took third on the climb, seven seconds ahead of Moyano, who finished six seconds ahead of Euser.
Euser said he saw Moyano take a push from the team car.
“I dropped [Moyano] and then he came by me, coasting, uphill, with his team car,” Euser said. “They put about 200 meters on me. I slowly brought them back, and as I was about 50 meters behind, I watched a hand come out of the team car and push the rider.
“People are going to make bad choices in stressful situations, but when you boil it down, it’s sport. It’s competition. It’s supposed to be the strongest man wins, regardless of where you’re from, or who you have around you.”
It was just one of at least three incidents in which local riders or team directors disregarded racing etiquette — or simply broke the rules — prompting several American riders to speak out about it.
On stage 6, with 40km remaining, Garmin-Sharp sprinter Tyler Farrar drifted back to his team car to fill up on water bottles before the pace ramped up into the final climb up Mirador del Sol.
While he was taking bottles from director Chann McRae on the driver’s side of their team car, the Buenos Aires Provincia team car struck Farrar from behind, knocking him to the ground. According to Farrar, the car did not stop after the incident.
“All of a sudden there’s this big silver blur, I felt him hit me, and then I went down,” Farrar said. “I think I bounced off our car, and then went down on my left side. I’m pretty lucky that I didn’t go under either car.
“I was pretty surprised when I got up, that the guy didn’t even stop. How shitty of a person do you have to be to hit someone with your car and just keep going?”
And while Farrar’s incident was accidental, it was no accident when Buenos Aires Provincia rider Walter Perez — whose father was driving his team car — gave Lotto-Belisol’s Kenny Dehaes a black eye on stage 3.
“We were pulling, riding behind Quick Step,” Dehaes recalled. “I was sitting on Cav’s wheel. The guy from Buenos Aires came in pushing and everything, on my right side. It was still 100k to go, though. I give him a little push with my elbow, to let him know that this is our place, and he reacts with a big smash, right on my eye.”
These things happen in pro bike racing. Team cars, or even neutral caravan vehicles, often give riders a boost. Vehicles have hit riders before. Punches occasionally fly, on and off the bike.
Collectively, however, these incidents paint a picture of local riders and directors so intent on getting results that they are willing to take extreme risks or break rules at the biggest cycling event in South America.
Lives in the balance
Farrar’s incident was, of course, the most serious — had it played out differently, he could have been killed.
The man behind the wheel of the Buenos Aires Provincia team car was Hugo Perez — father of Walter Perez, the 2008 Olympic Madison champion who punched Dehaes. Perez was too emotional over the incident to speak at length about the incident, saying only, “I’ve done eight tours. I’m Walter’s father; I’ve been following him all my life. I have the most experience on the road in Argentina.”
But Martin Ferrari, who was in the Buenos Aires passenger seat at the time, said that as they went to pass Farrar, the Garmin team car swerved left, causing Farrar to drift into their path.
“We were in the caravan, we were passing, Tyler was right beside the car,” Ferrari said. “More riders were coming and going for water as well. When we were passing up, the Garmin car moved over. We moved over, too, but we hit [Farrar] with the mirror.”
Stewart, who saw the incident, told VeloNews: “He just full-on hit him. I mean, accidents happen, but he didn’t even pull the car off the road to pass, it was just, ‘I’m coming up, and if you’re in the way, you’re getting hit.’ And this is at 40km to go.”
What happened afterward is uncertain. Farrar said the Buenos Aires car did not stop after striking him; Ferrari said they did. McRae corroborated his rider’s account.
Ferrari said he and Perez wanted to help Farrar, “but he was very aggressive and he was throwing things at us.”
“He didn’t want us to help and he started to be aggressive towards us. He said that he wanted to kill me,” Ferrari added.
After the stage, the American sprinter visited the Buenos Aires team car, and words were exchanged.
“I tried to find him at the finish and talk to him, but my Spanish isn’t that great, not well enough to get my point across, and he didn’t speak any English, and it was pretty frustrating because he wasn’t just saying ‘I’m sorry,’” Farrar said.
Ferrari said that an enraged Farrar broke the team car’s side mirror and windshield; at the start of stage 7 on Sunday, the Buenos Aires team had a busted windshield and mirror. Asked if he’d done it, Farrar did not comment.
“He broke the mirror and the windscreen, he was very aggressive towards us,” Ferrari said. “We are very sorry about it, hopefully he will accept our apologies because he was really mad and wouldn’t accept our apologies. We hope he will.
“I actually went to [Garmin] one by one, the mechanics and assistants, to apologize for it, because I feel guilty about it, I feel bad about it. Nobody wants to hurt or kill a rider. We just want to apologize.”
As for whether Perez and Ferrari stopped, that may remain a case of one man’s word against another’s. However, Perez was fined 100 Swiss francs for “breach of the regulations governing the movement of vehicles in the race.”
“Accidents happen,” Farrar said. “The difference is, if he’d stopped and been outside of his car, apologizing, that would be a different thing, I’d be a little less bitter about it.
“What kind of a person does that? If I put myself in his shoes, even if it wasn’t my fault at all, I would stop the car to make sure I didn’t run over someone and kill them. But he must have had more pressing concerns.”
American Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) was complimentary of the race, but less so of some of the local racers.
“You have these guys here that are so desperate to make a result, to show themselves … one of these local guys punches Dehaes in the face in the sprint. You have one of the team cars run down Tyler Farrar, just because he couldn’t get by. … On stage 1, when the breakaway stayed away, we were all sprinting for seventh place, I was just kind of sitting back, watching these [local] guys taking massive risks in front of me to sprint for seventh place.
“I understand that this race means a lot to them, but it gets to a point where you have to ask: Is it worth it for us, as pros who are trying to build up for bigger races, to come here, to take big risks in preparation races by being involved with riders who can be quite dangerous?”
Only one protest filed
Giovanni Lombardi works with the Tour de San Luis, as the coordinator between the event and top European teams. A former pro himself, the Italian pointed out that, while riders such as Phinney and Phil Gaimon were critical on Twitter of tactics used by local riders and teams, none of these incidents merited a protest to the UCI race jury until the start of the final stage on Sunday, when Garmin filed a complaint.
(In gathering material for this story, VeloNews did not speak with Pedro Frias, the president of the UCI commissaires’ jury, and was unable to reach Moyano or Walter Perez.)
Lombardi said the UCI jury consisted of riders from throughout Argentina, not just San Luis, and that the jury president is from Cuba. He also said that that any photographic or video evidence of riders taking a tow up a climb would have been taken into consideration had it been provided.
Dehaes said he and Perez made up after their row, adding that he believed that aggression might just be part of the Argentine approach toward sport in general.
“They are good guys, maybe a bit aggressive, but I think that’s the mentality in Argentina,” he said. “When you watch the [soccer] games on TV, they are always fighting, more than in Europe.”
Euser also was diplomatic when speaking about the race and those who broke the rules.
“It is a great race. It’s in its eighth year, and it’s gotten bigger and better every year,” Euser said. “And I recognize that the San Luis Somos Todos team wants to be here to show that they are representing this province, and representing Argentina for this race. I fully understand that. But there is an element of fair play in there, regardless of who you are or where you come from.”
And McRae said that Moyano and the San Luis Somos Todos team car were at it again on the stage-6 climb of Mirador del Sol, until he brought it to the commissaires’ attention.
“On the climb, Moyano was coming off the back, but then a random photographer and motor driver just decided to give him a shove, for more than 15 seconds,” McRae said. “They tried to do it twice, but we kept on trying to stop them. We told the commissaire and made him come back to stop it. [Moyano] eventually got dropped because he couldn’t get pushed anymore.”
McRae did not file a protest. Likewise, Stewart, the BMC director, did not complain about Moyano to the race jury after stage 4. Moyano went on to finish the race fifth overall.
“I didn’t complain at all. I know some of the other directors did, and I thought more directors would get together and complain the next day at the start, but they didn’t,” Stewart said.
“I think you’ve got the local team that’s primarily getting the most offenses. It’s their race, and they want to do well, and I feel like once you complain, you’re not going to get much. What was I going to get — 30 seconds back for Atapuma? There had already been 15 fans shoving that guy up the hill already.
“I accept it, because when I went to the team presentation, that team basically won. That was maybe a celebration for them winning last year. You appreciate a good international race, and you appreciate the province bringing you here. You know the local guys want to do well. I wouldn’t accept it for long, but I think I accepted it this time because it didn’t affect our team that greatly.”
Neither Farrar nor McRae filed a protest with the race jury after stage 6.
“After the stage I wasn’t in the in the mood to find a commissaire and try to go through all that,” Farrar said. “It was on top of a mountain. I was bleeding.”
Asked if he’d spoken with anyone from the race organization in regard to his tweets, Phinney said he had not.
“All I can do is tweet about it,” he said. “I don’t have a direct line to the organizer. It’s more up to them to address it than it is for me to go talk to them. I speak out about it because I want to see the race progress, and I think when you have issues like this, the race is not going to move forward unless you address these little issues, which could become big issues.”