By Kirsten Robbins in Stone Mountain Park, Georgia
UCI Commissaries at the 2007 Tour de Georgia have been strict with team managers and riders; dishing out over sixteen enforced infractions after yesterday's stage alone. The penalties included disqualifications for hanging onto their team cars as well as steep fines for distributing water bottles outside of the time allotted for vehicle the vehicle feeding zones.
Earlier this week, Discovery Channel team's director Johan Bruyneel was not permitted to drive during stage five because of a speeding infraction the previous stage. On Friday, there were numerous 200 Swiss-Franc fines distributed under feeding infractions and four riders plus a team vehicle were disqualified from the race.
UCI official Mike Shea follows each stage in the Com 1 vehicle and has the final word on infraction penalties given during each stage. Despite criticism from within the race caravan, Shear said that the seemingly harsh penalties are not harsh at all. "Rules are always in place but they are not always enforced," Shea said before the start of stage six in Stone Mountain Park. "It may seem strict this week but it's not. The fines we have been giving are 200 Swiss Francs but by my rule book they are suppose to be 1000 Swiss Francs applied for a feeding infraction."
The opportunity for riders to feed from the team vehicles is supposed to end with twenty kilometres to the finish of each stage. Shea allotted an extra six kilometres to the end of the feed zone because the previous location was on a descent. "We extended it to with in thirteen kilometres to go on Brasstown Bald," he said. "I gave a warning with one mile to go before closing the feed zone, which was plenty of time considering we had already passed the official feeding nearly five kilometres prior to that warning. So all of the feeding fines started after the climb had started and to the teams who were handing out water bottles freely."
The disqualifications occurred when riders were found hanging off of team cars to get back into the peloton, not uncommon in stage racing when riders become tired and need a little help finishing within the time cut.
The Priority Health team was one of those charged with a feeding infraction. "The rules are the rules and obviously everyone needs to stick to them," said team director Glen Mitchell. "The assistance that we were giving was not to win the race was just to have our riders finish in the time cut so they can start the stage the next day. They are obviously not a threat given the way they are feeling. But as a team it is always good to have everyone finish for morale. It takes just a couple of seconds to help a rider and (that kind of help) usually accepted by the officials. Obviously we were in the category where they though our assistance to the riders was too much and the officials are a little harsher in their decision making and we lost our second car and two riders (to penalties). The officials are making their voices heard to say that they are not going to tolerate infractions during this race."
One disqualification was overturned this morning due to a Shea's reevaluation. Colavita/Sutter Home presented by Cooking Light rider Adam Bergman was slapped with a disqualification for hanging onto the medical vehicle. Bergman has been suffering form bronchitis and held onto the medical car while the Doctor searched for throat lozenges. "In the case of Bergman, it was characterized as a mis-report," Shea said. "In speaking to the doctor, we appreciated that he was being medically treated and so what he was doing at the car and why he was hanging onto the car was legitimate."