After retaking the yellow jersey after a typically swashbuckling late attack on stage 8 of the Tour de France, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) was sent on the defensive after being accused of following in the slipstream of camera motorbikes as he and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) sped to the finish.
Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) was the first rider to make the accusation, telling Danish television station TV2 that both Alaphilippe and Pinot benefitted from slipstreaming behind camera motorbikes on the run-in to Saint-Étienne.
"We were hoping for a stage victory for Lutsenko or myself, or that I could gain some time in the standings," said Fuglsang. "I just missed out as the two Frenchmen followed the [motor]bike over the top. So even though we were part of the lead group behind, we couldn’t catch them.
"Yes [they got help], we could see that when we sat down behind. We can see that they’re behind the motorcycle. I was a little surprised at that moment when they attacked. I should not have been so far up but should have instead been further back and closer to them. But that’s how it is."
Alaphilippe responded with sarcasm when asked about the Dane's comments in the post-race press conference, denying that he and Pinot had benefitted from following motorbikes in the final 12 kilometres.
"[Yes]. I put my bike on the car and I took a motorbike," he said sardonically. "It was really fast. It was better [than my bike].
"I was really going full gas and Pinot was also," he added more seriously. "They were also full gas behind. I don't know what I can say – I was not behind a moto."
UAE Team Emirates leader Dan Martin and Trek-Segafredo's Bauke Mollema later added their voices to the chorus of disapproval, with Mollema saying that the alleged slipstreaming changed the course of the race.
"It's really ridiculous," Mollema said to Sporza. "I talked to the race jury on the way, because the television bike was in front of the peloton for one second the whole time. In a descent, that's a big difference.
"It's a pity they don't pay attention to that. Maybe it was the same in the lead group, but this really affects the course of the race.
Mollema went on to detail the benefits of following motorbikes, including the added assistance doing so would provide on a descent such as the two in the final 12 kilometres of the stage.
"By looking at the bike's brake lights you can see exactly when and what kind of turn is coming up. Moreover, you also benefit from the suction of such an engine."
At the time of writing, there has been no comment from race officials on the allegations, nor were any jury punishments levelled against motorbike pilots involved in the race. Under UCI regulations, motorbikes involved in races are forbidden from 'interfering with the development of the race [and] allowing riders to take their slipstream.'
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