It had been rumoured since last week. Nevertheless, when the UCI announced on Wednesday that Dylan Groenewegen would be banned for nine months as a result of the crash that occurred at the end of Stage 1 of this year’s Tour of Poland, the cycling community was near unanimous in its condemnation of the sentence.
It was, by most accounts, entirely out of proportion to the offence, with many deeming it to reflect the consequence of the offence rather than what Groenewegen actually did.
That is, of course, where it gets subjective. Without knowing more about the UCI’s investigation than was said in the 147-word statement released last Wednesday, we are left to draw our own conclusions as to exactly how it arrived at the decision to ban Groenewegen for an uncommon amount of time for such a common offence.
Which is not to downplay the significance of that appalling crash, but rather to seek to dispassionately assess it, as you would hope the UCI had done themselves. Their own actions, however, suggests that the governing body came to a fairly firm conclusion before its investigation could have barely begun. A statement released the evening after the crash read:
“The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) strongly condemns the dangerous behaviour of rider Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma), who sent Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) into the barriers a few metres from the finish, causing a collective crash at the end of the first stage of the Tour de Pologne.”
No mention is made of other factors which may have contributed to the outcome, such as the construction of the barriers, or the downhill finish.
Revisiting the incident is not recommended. If, however, you decide to do so, as we did for this article, and if you are able to isolate Groenegen’s actions from their cataclysmic consequences, it’s hard to see them as much – if any – worse than many we’ve seen on many other occasions this season, for which the penalty has been much less severe.
With 150 metres to go Groenewegen is in the wind, opening up his sprint, with Jakobsen on his wheel. As they pass the 50 metre line, Jakobsen moves out to go around his compatriot on his right, at which point Groenewegen begins to drift in the same direction, squeezing the Deceuninck Quick Step rider towards the barriers. This drift continues to the point where Jakobsen loses his balance, at enormous speed, and all hell breaks loose.
That’s just what it looks like to us, anyway. One individual whose opinion ought to carry more weight than ours, is Movistar’s Edu Prades, one of several riders collaterally damaged by the crash. The Spaniard was out for almost two months as a result of it yet for him, ultimate responsibility lay a long way from Groenewegen’s wheels:
“I don't think @GroenewegenD should be punished..” he tweeted. “What about those who allowed it and the organization that sets up the fences and that finish? What about those of us who lost this short season due to poor fencing?”
Other riders who have weighed in include Simon Geschke, who described the stage finish as a “dangerous” and “silly downhill sprint” and Bora Hansgrohe’s Cesare Benadetti, who was especially critical of the UCI’s verdict:
“I do not want to comment about riders’ behaviour but I find it disappointing that there is not even a single word about those barriers at the finish line. The consequences of the crash would have not been so extremely bad with proper barriers.”
Another whose view we might be inclined to heed is former WorldTour pro, and four-time Irish national champion, Matt Brammeier. Brammeier, you’ll recall, experienced a crash of different but similarly horrific proportions at the Tour of Utah in 2015, so knows a thing or two about rider safety.
“If ever there was a time for a consolidated rider strike and show of unity and support for a rider and the sport it’s now!”
Which is where the CPA comes in. Or ought to. It took the official riders’ union until four days after the crash to say anything at all in public, and when it did it was in the form of a single ugly, hashtag-laden Tweet stating that the organisation had written a letter to the UCI asking the governing body “to open an #investigation for non-compliance with #safety prevention measures.”
Since then… crickets. That Twitter feed has been little more than race results which, with respect, we can get from anywhere.
And no, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s all the CPA is doing, but if ever there was a time when a show of support for its constituents would have been welcome, Wednesday would surely have been it. As it is, from the outside at least, it looks like the union has abandoned its post.
With the recent announcement of the launch of a rival riders’ union, and if you’ll permit a brief bit of speculation, it could be that the CPA, along with the UCI themselves, are setting themselves up for a power struggle within the sport. Someone has to represent the interests of the riders and it seems that neither the officially recognized workers’ union, nor the governing body which recognises it, are particularly bothered about doing so.
Julian Alaphilippe was merely relegated for this incident at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Should he have received a lengthy ban as well?
It’s worth noting, that in its more recent release, even the UCI goes no further than saying that Groenewegen “deviated from his line and committed a violation of the UCI regulations.”
Few would argue with that as a description of what he did, but how many other sprints have we seen that would also fit that description? How many of them are penalised with more than a simple relegation? Does the UCI intend to ban every one of those for a similar length of time in future?
The same statement would indicate that the UCI does intend for this to serve as a precedent concluding, as it does, by emphasising “the importance of acting... in a fair and consistent manner.”
So either we should take them at their word, in which case, we’re going to have some very slow, empty sprints next season, or the UCI is, in fact, going to continue to make arbitrary rulings that lead everyone else in the sport to increasingly question its authority.
As it is, for now, Dylan Groenewegen and Jumbo Visma appear to have agreed and accepted the sentence, but this is about more than the teams and riders immediately affected. While the various parties may wish to draw a line under this particular incident, if the UCI is allowed to scapegoat riders, race organisers will only continue to subject them to dangerous racing conditions.
Riders, teams, fans, all deserve better.