Controversy over Roubaix disqualification goes on

The decision of the UCI commissaires to disqualify the originally second, third and fourth-placed Hoste (Discovery), Van Petegem (Davitamon) and Gusev (Discovery) was at first a rumour. No official announcement was made in the hectic finish area, as Paris-Roubaix winner Fabian Cancellara (CSC) gave post-race interviews and many riders still flew into the velodrome. The three chasers had ducked through a red-light railway crossing with 10 kilometres to go.

"It's ridiculous," said a shocked Hoste. "I knew that we made a mistake, but we didn't endanger anybody. And why didn't they tell us in the finale that we could stop riding?" After 259 kilometres of cobbled 'Hell', the three were told they had done it all in vain.

2003 winner Peter Van Petegem was waiting for the podium ceremony with his son, as French TV asked him for his reaction. "You probably know more than me," 'De Peet' said. The reporter then told him about his disqualification, and the Belgian left, furious.

Even the organisers of Paris-Roubaix didn't agree entirely with the decision. ASO's Jean-Francois Pescheux, who is responsible for the race course, said, "It's true that these are the rules, but maybe they should have made an exception out of fairness and sporting ethics. After 250 kilometres of racing, and knowing it didn't affect the winner's position in the race, maybe the rules shouldn't have been applied to the letter."

Jean-Marie Leblanc, race director, also thought the decision was too hard on the riders. "The regulation was made because there were situations that needed a rule," he said. "But this was not the case today. Cancellara passed the crossing, and the barriers went down behind him. The three chasers, who didn't see a train coming, certainly infringed the rule but it didn't really affect the race situation. Everyone knew that Cancellara was increasing his lead and that the ones behind him would be fighting for second place. In these kind of situations, I prefer the spirit rather than the rule itself to be applied - although that is certainly incorrect rules-wise. I think the decision is very severe."

As it turned out, the train in question was a goods transport, of which the schedules cannot be as controlled by the French trains corporation SNCF as passenger's trains can be. Moreover, the race was 15 minutes ahead of the fastest schedule, so the organisers could not prevent the incident from happening.

Still, Discovery Channel's team director Johan Bruyneel accused ASO of not choosing a train-free race finale. "You can ask yourself how it can happen that the finale of a ProTour race is affected by a goods train," he said, adding to the address of the UCI commissaires, "I know there are rules, but sometimes they can be interpreted differently."

Tom Boonen, who only got on the podium to get his ProTour leader's jersey, didn't consider his second placing to be legitimate. "My true placing is still fifth," he said. "That's the place I deserve considering the basic power outputs in this race. When Cancellara attacked in the sector of Campin-en-Pévèle, I wanted to react. Flecha hindered me, so I had to brake hard and my speed was gone immediately. After that, it was over and out..."

Marc Sergeant, Davitamon-Lotto director, and Johan Bruyneel are now considering submitting a complaint against the UCI because of the train incident. "The decision isn't human," Sergeant told Het Nieuwsblad on Monday morning. "We lose an important podium placing and a whole lot of ProTour points. I do feel bitter. I don't have a problem with the rules, but if Van Petegem, Hoste and Gussev are disqualified, why wasn't Boonen? It's a question of principle."

Indeed, Boonen and his companions Ballan (Lampre) and Flecha (Rabobank) of the second chase group also crossed the rails when the barriers were still down, but the train had already passed.

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