Things have taken a turn for the worst for SD Worx in this year’s Tour de France Femmes. Perhaps Lorena Wiebes abandonment of the race due to illness ahead of stage five was a bad omen for the Dutch squad, because it seems that drama has been weaving its way into the SD Worx team camp ever since then, wafting around like a bad smell. At the rotten core of the issue is the drafting assistance that the team’s sports director, Danny Stam, gave their star rider, Demi Vollering, in yesterday’s stage.
Vollering was off the back of the peloton after she suffered a puncture and had to stop for a rear wheel change. Despite the mechanic’s best efforts, the switcheroo was slow and messy – it’s also a mystery why they didn’t just change Vollering’s bike, rather than the wheel – which meant the Dutch rider had work to do to get back to the bunch. In another head-scratching decision from SD Worx, none of Vollering’s teammates dropped back with her to help her make her way back to the peloton, either.
As it turned out, they didn’t need to anyway as Stam, who was driving the team car, gave Vollering plenty of assistance to bring her back to the bunch, so much so that Vollering was punished with a 20 second penalty for sheltering behind the car at the end of the stage. She also was docked 10 points in the points classification and two points in the mountains classification.
It’s fair to say that SD Worx did not respond to this sanction well, with Stam himself commenting to Sporza after the stage: "At the finish I hear that we have 20 seconds. This is a fight for seconds. If you lose 20 seconds because of something like that and the UCI supports that decision, then I wonder if those people are capable of leading such a race. Look at the men, it is quite normal there that they are brought back like this. There are no clear regulations either."
The sports director refused to show any remorse for his actions or accept that what he did was against the rules of the sport, despite widespread public opinion being in favour of the UCI’s ruling. During the time she was being drafted up to the back of the peloton, Stam almost collided with two other team cars and had to mount the grass verge to avoid a crash and Vollering subsequently hitting the back of her own team car. It was a disaster that was narrowly averted.Image: ASO/Thomas Maheux
This morning, the UCI announced even further punishment for Stam and SD Worx following his comments at the end of yesterday’s stage, writing in a press release: “The Commissaires’ Panel’s communiqué indicates that, after careful and lengthy review of the available TV footage, which clearly shows the particularly dangerous nature of Mr Stam's overtaking of other cars and riders during stage 5 of the event, and in view of the inappropriate comments made by Mr Stam to the UCI Commissaires’ Panel, the Panel has imposed the following penalties on the Sport Director, based on articles 2.12.007/4.7 (last paragraph) and 2.12.007/8.2.2 (last paragraph) of the UCI Regulations: a fine of 500 Swiss francs and exclusion from the event.”
The UCI Cycling Regulations 8.2, for which Stam was found in infringement of in relation to any other person on the race, is titled: Assault, intimidation, insults, threats, improper conduct (including pulling the jersey or saddle of another rider, blow with the helmet, knee, elbow, shoulder, foot or hand, etc.), or behaviour that is indecent or that endangers others.
It seems that it was Stam’s reaction to Vollering’s 20-second time penalty that has got him into further trouble with the sport’s governing body. If he had accepted the punishment gracefully, it’s likely the UCI would not have taken further action and he could have remained in the race as it continues for the last three stages.
SD Worx refused to give comment to media when questioned at the start of stage six in Albi, but have since acknowledged the exclusion of Stam on their own Instagram account, writing: "We are surprised that the UCI imposes this penalty, but accept this measure. Perhaps in the first moment we reacted a little too emotionally to Demi Vollering's time penalty. Too bad this happened. With Anna van der Breggen as first sport director, we will continue the race and go back to focusing fully on the race itself as soon as possible. Our mission remains the same and that is to win the Tour de France Femmes. Everyone is more than 100 per cent motivated to go for that in the coming days.”
Both Stam and Van der Breggen’s refusal to speak at the start of the race this morning perhaps indicates that SD Worx have learnt a lesson about accepting punishment from the UCI more gracefully in the future. Either way, it is a situation that has been poorly managed by the team and will likely have had an impact on the stress of the riders during this Tour de France. While SD Worx has been in the spotlight and under scrutiny, their rival team, Movistar (which includes defending Tour champion Annemiek van Vleuten) have flown under the radar calmly in the race so far. The impact it will have on riders' physical performances is yet to be seen, but the last two days of the Tour de France Femmes have certainly not been what SD Worx were hoping for.
Cover image: Getty