“Oh wow. OK…” Demi Vollering said in a video interview with Sporza, furrowing her brow, looking confused. "That must have been when I had a puncture? I only hung behind the car a little bit? Then I immediately passed it."
That was the reaction of Vollering being told she had just received a 20-second time penalty after stage five of the Tour de France Femmes. The time penalty has seen the Dutch rider move down five places to seventh, 12 seconds behind her main rival Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar).
The penalty was the result of Vollering using her team car to get back into the peloton after a rear-wheel puncture with 65 kilometres to go. It sparked safety concerns as the SD Worx team car drove on the left-hand side with Vollering using the slipstream behind, instead of the car being in the convoy to the right. As the Dutch team’s car was driving in the left-hand lane, another team car broke suddenly in the same lane, causing the SD Worx car to veer suddenly onto the grass with Vollering’s wheel centimetres from the back of the car.
Despite the race regulator on a motorbike behind waving for the team car to move over to the right after narrowly missing the other vehicle, the SD Worx car continued for a few more seconds before Vollering past the car on the left as she worked her way back to the bunch. As the motorbike overtook the team’s car, he shook his finger and gestured a fine with his notepad.
“I find it comical,” Vollering added in the interview with Sporza. “It feels a little strange, but if they want to do it that way. I can’t do anything now. It’s a pity, but I don’t really know what to do with this. It is very disappointing. I work hard to realise my dreams. When things like this happen, it’s not so much fun.”
Demi Vollering is now seventh in the GC (Image by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
Current yellow jersey and teammate of Vollering, Lotte Kopecky, in the press conference after the stage, was equally confused by the time penalty for this reason. “Demi getting 20 seconds for this reason is bullsh*t. I mean, if you get dropped then I think it’s normal that no one should bring you back. But if you have a mechanical then, I mean, this happens all the time. And then it’s stupid that now she gets 20 seconds while it happens all the time,” Kopecky said.
The UCI Cycling Regulations state, under 4.7, titled, Sheltering behind or taking advantage of the slipstream of a vehicle, that a rider will receive a CHF 200 fine, 20% penalty in the points and mountains classifications and 20 seconds to five minute penalty per infringement.
It also states under 2.12.007, that when a “time penalty” or “points penalty” is imposed, the penalty is applied to the general classification (time or points) of the event. The penalty is rounded up to the nearest whole number.
Vollering overall received a 20-second penalty taken from the general classification as well as 10 points in the points classification and two points in the mountains classification.
The only difference between what happened with Vollering today and the rider who was also working their way back to the bunch at the same time as Vollering was the amount of time she spent in the slipstream of the car. Whereas, when riders jump between the cars, they are only in the slipstream for a few seconds.
But it raises the question: if the riders are doing this as often as Kopecky mentions with the team car, how can UCI better implement the rule? SD Worx was hit with the penalty because they were caught, even worse, they were caught on camera, but if others are getting away with it, then the rider’s confusion may be justified.
While Vollering only received the minimum time penalty that the UCI could have punished her with, it will still be a blow for the GC favourite as the race approaches its final few stages.
*Cover image by Alex Broadway/Getty Images