A few days after Peter Sagan was hit by a neutral service motorbike and forced to abandon the Vuelta a España, the Tinkoff-Saxo team has issued a strongly-worded open letter addressed to Unipublic, the organisers of the Vuelta and the UCI, cycling’s governing body.
The possibility of following through on their threat of legal action is far from ruled out but the team has taken the chance to make a series of demands, including calls for measures to be taken to increase the safety of riders.
Sagan was hit by two fines in the hot-headed aftermath of the incident on stage 8 of the race - 200 Swiss Francs for “for threats and insults” and a further 100 for “behaviour which damages the image of cycling" - and the team is demanding that the latter be revoked. It also calls upon Unipublic to acknowledge its accountability by issuing a public apology and making a donation to a charity of the team's choosing to the value of the prize money for the points classification.
Signed Tinkoff S/A, the letter argues that “it would be only reasonable to seek proper indemnification from the responsible party/ies,” but states that at this point in time “our team’s priority is that race organisers and other stakeholders learn from this incident and come up with concrete measures to promote the safety of the riders and create a better racing environment.”
The demands are set out as follows:
1. Unipublic as La Vuelta’s race organiser issue a public apology for the incident, something not done to date;
2. Whilst not seeing this as in any way as compensating for our loss, we propose that Unipublic offer a donation to a charity organization - to be named by Tinkoff Sport A/S in agreement with Peter Sagan - equal to the value of the prize for the Green Jersey victory, or suggest an alternative which acknowledges that as race organiser it has accountability for the safety of its event;
3. Unipublic take appropriate and concrete measures to prevent similar incidents in the remaining stages of the race and its future events;
4. Tinkoff Sport A/S requests that the Union Cycliste Internationale (Uci) revoke the fine to our rider for "behavior that damages the image of cycling". The team and Peter Sagan accept the other fine for the reaction Peter Sagan had after the crash but it is simply inappropriate to fine him for damaging the image of cycling under these circumstances;
5. We also request that the Uci initiate - in consultation with our and other teams’ representatives and other relevant stakeholders - a review of the rules regulating the admission to vehicles' drivers inside the race and the way vehicles are obliged to act while driving in the convoy and peloton, with the intent of implementing appropriate rules changes no later than the start of the 2016 race season.
Rider safety in relation to race vehicles is an issue that has come to the boil this season, and Tinkoff-Saxo's letter follows a similar one from BMC general manager Jim Ochowicz to the UCI, in which he calls for concrete steps to be taken.
BMC have been victims of several incidents involving vehicles, with Taylor Phinney suffering a career-threatening injury last year and Greg van Avermaet being robbed of the chance to go for the stage win at Clásica San Sebastián last month. Jesse Sergeant of Trek Factory Racing was mowed down by a Shimano neutral service car in the Tour of Flanders, breaking his collarbone, and it was a Shimano moto that collided with Sagan, though the company have stated that the driver was not employed by them but rather supplied by the race.
“Someone please step forward!” Ochowicz wrote in his letter to the UCI. “Safety problems at races continue to accelerate and are now a nearly everyday issue."
Tinkoff-Saxo have given Unipublic and the UCI until the end of the Vuelta (September 13), to respond to their letter, which concludes with a reiteration of the team's right to "initiate proceedings".