A change to the UCI rules, which came in force on April 1 has led to the disqualification of a number of riders in recent days with Michael Schär (AG2R Citroën Team) among them. He was expelled from the Tour of Flanders on Sunday after throwing his bidon toward a group of cheering fans on the roadside who immediately swooped on the race memento.
In reaction the Swiss rider has taken to social media to reflect on just what a roadside bottle meant to him when he was young.
The Instagram post which begins with “Dear UCI: WHY KIDS START CYCLING” has drawn a supportive reaction from a swathe of commenters – with the replies running into the thousands – including many from within the peloton.
Schär recounts the story of his 1997 trip to the Tour de France with his parents and sister, describing the electrifying atmosphere of the bunch as life changing.
“I was endlessly impressed by the speed and ease these riders could ride their bikes. I wanted nothing else in my life anymore than becoming a pro cyclist myself. From this moment on I was driven by a dream,” said Schar in the Instagram post.
“On top of that impression I received a bottle from a Pro. This little plastic piece made my cycling addiction complete. Back home that bottle was reminding me everyday of what my dream was. I rode my yellow Team Polti bottle everyday in full pride. Everyday.
“Now I am one of these Pros who race through all of the happy spectators. During calm moments of the race I always keep my empty bottle until I see some kids next to the road. Then I throw them gently right where they can catch it safely. Two years ago I gave a bottle to a girl next to the road. Her parents told me the girl wasn’t only happy about this bottle for a day. No, she still talks about this bottle. And maybe one day she becomes a cyclist as well.”
Schär was expelled from the Tour of Flanders, with more than 100 kilometres to go, having discarded the bottle as he was fighting back from a second mechanical. Just as he managed to make contact with the convoy Greg van Avermaet’s long-term teammate was pulled from the event.
Race officials deemed his move to have broken revised protocols in relation to littering.
The rules that came into effect at the start of April mean that riders can only dispose of litter at designated areas in races or if they drop back towards their team cars and hand items over directly. Within the specified rules riders can be fined and docked UCI points while 'for one-day races, in addition to the provisions above, elimination or disqualification.'
Schär wasn’t the only rider disqualified on Sunday. Yevgeniy Fedorov (Astana-Premier Tech) and Otto Vergaerde (Alpecin Fenix) were both removed from the race after shoulder charges and physical aggression soon after the start as riders tried to go in the early breakaway.
While it was hard to argue against the removal of the latter pair, Schär’s ousting from the race was greeted with a degree of consternation, as the replies to the post demonstrate.
Chris Froome (Israel Start-Up Nation) replied: “What is our sport coming to.” The comment from Richie Porte (Ineos Grenadiers) reads: “Well said mate. Is there a governing body more out of touch with its sport?”
In the women’s Tour of Flanders Letizia Borghesi (Aromitalia Basso Bikes Vaiano) was also disqualified for discarding her bottle out of the allowed zones and while she apologised for violating the new rule, said the she thought the disqualification and fine was excessive and that it was disappointing that there would be less children experiencing the excitement of that roadside prize.
“I think seeing a child’s smile when he takes a bottle on the side of the road is priceless. With this new rule, we’ll see a lot of smiles less and this is certainly not good for the cycling,” said the Italian rider in a Facebook post.
Schär too, bemoaned the loss of that opportunity to toss a bottle toward a young fan that may be cheering from the roadside.
“These are moments why I love our sport. Nobody ever can take that away from us. We are the most approachable sport who gives bottles along the way. Simple as that. Simple is Cycling."
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