Former Tour de France winner Stephen Roche has condemned Vincenzo Nibali and his Astana team for the towing incident that saw the Italian thrown from the Vuelta a Espana on stage 2. In a blog post for Sky Sports, Roche went on to say that the moment, when Nibali took a tow from his team car after being held up by a crash, should be a watershed for cycling.
“It was a disgrace not just to himself and his team, but also the sport, and it's absolutely right that he was thrown out of the race,” Roche wrote. "He panicked, his team panicked, and they got what they deserved. The repercussions of the incident should not stop at Nibali and Astana. This has to be a watershed moment, where we say enough is enough and put a halt to this nonsense of riders being illegally helped by their team cars.”
Roche particularly attacked the idea of a "sticky bottle", where a rider holds onto a bottle longer than needed so as to get a short pull from the team car. It is common practice in cycling, especially on tougher days, but it is rare that a rider is thrown from the race. Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) received a sticky bottle from his team car the day after Nibali’s expulsion and was punished with a fine of CHF100.
Roche also points out that the act of sitting behind a vehicle to receive the draft should also be looked at. “Who are we trying to kid? This is a sport that is fighting for its credibility, trying to prove to an already fed-up public that it is ethical and trustworthy, and yet here we have the very best riders in the world trying to gain illegal advantages almost every single day,” he wrote.
“There also has to be a culture change among teams and riders, who have to accept that mechanicals and crashes are racing incidents and part of the sport. They currently seem to regard them as injustices and that cheating to make up lost time can be excused, but it can't. Bad luck happens. Deal with it. If you want an advantage over your rivals, train harder.”
Roche himself is not a stranger to bending the rules, the Irishman was given a 10-second penalty after taking an illegal feed en-route during his race-saving ride on La Plagne at the 1987 Tour de France. Riders are banned from taking food and drinks from the car inside the final 20km unless the commissaries have given special dispensation due to high temperatures.