Riders fight against punishment for throwing bottles to roadside fans

Tim Declerq takes a drink from a bidon
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The CPA rider’s association is leading a push by riders to change the new strict UCI rules on the disposal of bottles after Michael Schär (AG2R Citroën Team) and Letizia Borghesi (Aromitalia-Basso Bikes-Vaiano) were disqualified from the Tour of Flanders for throwing a bidon to roadside fans. 

The strict rules on the disposal of bidons was introduced on April 1 as part of wider rule changes on littering and safety that included bans on supertuck positions, improvements to finish area barriers and the introduction of a UCI Safety Manager and Event Safety Manager for each race. 

Riders were critical of the banning of the different aero tuck positions but have generally respected the new rule. However, the bidon rule has proved to be far more controversial, with riders disagreeing that throwing bidons to fans can be dangerous or is considered littering, instead suggesting that it is a longstanding part of the traditions of the sport. They believe it is unfair to disqualify a rider from a race simply for throwing a bidon to fans, maintaining that a compromise solution can be found that distinguishes between blatant and repeated littering and giving bidons to roadside fans. 

Cyclingnews understands that the CPA rider association held an online meeting on Tuesday evening after consulting their representatives in the teams, and they have written to the UCI asking for a review of the current strict bidon rules. The CPA believes the riders have the support of the AIGCP teams association. 

There appears to be a real risk that riders could decide to protest in some way if the UCI does not listen to their request to change and finesse the rules.   

Confusion and late rule changes  

Cyclingnews has discovered that the the bidon rule was changed after it was first discussed during the winter in a series of stakeholder meetings, which Matteo Trentin and Philippe Gilbert attended to represent the riders. In early February,  the sport's stakeholders (UCI, race organisers, teams and riders representatives) agreed to disqualify riders in the final vote during a Professional Cycling Council meeting. 

“When we spoke about it we reached an agreement that it was wrong to throw bidons in places they couldn’t be collected but I recall we said yes to giving them to the fans,” Trentin told Italian website BiciPro (opens in new tab).  

“Instead our representatives met with the teams and banned giving bidons to the public and also introduced severe punishment. I’m really angry about it. Whoever was there didn’t say a word.”      

Trentin seemed to be pointing the finger at CPA president Gianni Bugno, who didn’t attend the working groups on safety but voted to accept the rules at the PCC meeting in February, apparently under pressure to approve the whole package of new littering and safety rules in one vote. 

It seems Bugno and CPA Vice President Pascal Chanteur of the French UNCP riders association didn't understand the wider consequences of the bidon rule and how it would be interpreted by riders.  

“When we spoke about bidons and the public, and disqualifications were included, I voted in favour,” Bugno admitted to BiciPro.  

“I was convinced by their explanations regarding safety. What happens if a rider throws a bidon and a child goes into the road to get it and they’re hit by a photographer’s motorbike?  Disqualification is a severe punishment but it’s a way to change bad habits.

“Riders can give away bidons when they stop or slow and pass it to a child, they shouldn’t throw it. I know riders are against just throwing bidons away, but they can’t create any danger.” 

Trentin dismissed that throwing bidons towards children and crowds could be dangerous. The idea of stopping during a race to pass a bidon to a child seems impractical.  

“The problem is that the people who draw up the rules don’t understand cycling. There’s never been the kind of accident they talk about, while it often happens that we share decisions and then the opposite happens,” Trentin said.      

The CPA hopes to convince the UCI to modify the bidon rule at the next CCP meeting on April 14. 

They hope a compromise is found that punishes indiscriminate littering by throwing bidons into fields but allows bidons to be thrown specifically towards fans, perhaps in special designated areas that are considered safe. The CPA also hopes to create a level of punishment that only leads to disqualifciation for multiple offenders. 

“We’ll try to intervene on sanctions at the PCC meeting on April 14. Unfortunately, the race judges have to apply the rules they are given, it’s not easy even for them,” Bugno said.   

Staf Scheirlinckx of the Belgian Professional Cycling Association (BPCA) called for clarity and more detail to the rules.   

“Water bottles can no longer just be thrown away in nature and that seems logical to me" Scheirlinckx told Sporza, while suggesting Schär’s disqualification was too severe.

"Suppose a rider in the second stage of the Tour de France has to throw away or drop a water bottle due to a steering error and therefore risks exclusion, that goes too far.

"But we shouldn't minimize the incident either, the environment is also very important. There is just too much confusion, there should be a clearer description of the rules and an adjustment of the penalties."

The CPA hope the UCI will agree to a dialogue and so ease the tension between riders and the sport’s governing body. 

However, the UCI seems unwilling to reopen the debate on bidons.

“The plan asks everyone to behave in an exemplary manner, both for safety and for the protection of the environment and the image of our sport, in particular with regard to the younger generation and the general public,” the UCI told Cyclingnews in a statement. 

“We firmly believe that these measures, which in some cases require changes in attitudes, will contribute to making cycling the sport of the 21st century."

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