Following his expulsion from Paris-Nice for receiving assistance from a team car in his attempt to regain the peloton after going down in a crash during stage 1, Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) took responsibility for his actions on Sunday, saying in a statement released by his team that he made a mistake in a tense moment of the race.
"We made a mistake due to the fact we weren't thinking straight at a key moment in the stage, mainly as a result of my crash and the circumstances of a fantastic and animated stage," Bardet said. "I am deeply sorry for my actions because nothing justifies taking advantage of the extensive assistance I received from the team car for mechanical repairs."
Bardet sustained superficial wounds on his elbow, hand, hip and left knee when he crashed with 22km remaining while part of the second group on the road. The AG2R team leader remounted quickly and succeeded in catching back onto the chasing group as the race entered the final 10km.
French TV showed several brief images of Bardet’s pursuit through the race convoy, although on at least two occasions the helicopter camera angle showed a mechanic leaning from the AG2R La Mondiale car window to perform adjustments to Bardet's bike.
Team General Manager Vincent Lavenu said the team were panicked and made a regretful decision.
"On account of the circumstances that we found ourselves in the race, we were caught up in a panic after Romain's crash in a very tense stage, and we did not react properly," he said. "We admit our fault. This is the first time in 26 years that this has ever happened to me. The decision may seem severe, but we respect it. The jury are the ones who guarantee the rules are applied equally to all in our sport."
After catching the small chasing group Bardet moved to the front alongside Richie Porte (BMC) near the finish, eventually coming in 47 seconds down on stage winner Arnaud Démare (FDJ). The jury reacted quickly, however, determining Bardet got too much assistance form his team car and immediately disqualifying him from the race, a punishment in line with that handed down to Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) for a similar offence on the opening stage of the 2015 Vuelta a España.
Although he accepted responsibility for his actions and admitted his mistake, Bardet also acknowledged that getting assistance from a team car after a crash or mechanical can often enter into grey areas.
"This practice, too often tacitly accepted within the peloton, must now be guarded against in order to ensure the integrity of our sport," he said. "I sincerely apologize to the organisers and the fans. I came to Paris-Nice with a great desire and conviction to be an important actor in the proceedings."
The jury also fined Bardet 200 Swiss Francs. Directeur sportif Julien Jurdie was excluded for the remainder of Paris-Nice, and AG2R La Mondiale will have just one team car in the race for the week.
Lavenu re-enforced Bardet's apology.
"I am sorry, because Romain is normally an example of integrity and sportsmanship," he said. "I know that he will rebound quickly, and will be even stronger in the coming weeks. We will continue fighting on the roads of Paris-Nice as a team to show the colors of AG2R La Mondiale at the head of the race."
Bardet, meanwhile, will turn his focus to preparing for Tour of the Basque Country, the next race on his calendar as he builds toward the Tour de France, where he finished second to Chris Froome (Team Sky) last year.
"Now I must concentrate on preparing myself for the races that I will face in the next few weeks when I will be dedicated to taking part in my sport in the way that I love it," he said.