Team BridgeLane: Penalising Santos Festival of Cycling leader Whelan was an error

LOBETHAL AUSTRALIA JANUARY 27 James Whelan of Australia and Team Bridgelane celebrates at finish line as stage winner during the 2nd Santos Festival Of Cycling 2022 Mens Elite Stage 1 a 1142km stage from Stirling to Lobethal TourDownUnder on January 27 2022 in Lobethal Australia Photo by Daniel KaliszGetty Images
James Whelan at the Santos Festival of Cycling 2022 during stage 1 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

James Whelan (Team BridgeLane) would have heading into stage 2 of the Santos Festival of Cycling with a seemingly unassailable lead after winning the opening stage a minute-and-a-half ahead of his rivals but a one-minute penalty for motor pacing after an early mechanical problem cost him dear. 

Team BridgeLane told Cyclingnews it was an 'error made on their behalf'.

Whelan, when asked about the penalty that cut his potentially victory delivering gap was clearly disappointed but diplomatic in his response.

“It’s super disappointing. I won’t dwell on it too much there are quite a few details that you can look into that suggest it's not necessarily the correct decision but we will focus on today’s race and go from there,” he said before the race start.

So what were those circumstances?

The one minute penalty was applied for motor pacing, which under National Road Series recognised mishap exemption conditions can be done for a maximum of 2km. 

Team Manager, Andrew Christie-Johnston said he wouldn't deny that it was done for longer, after Whelan had a mechanical just after the start of the race in the neutral zone, but that the circumstances left them with little option.

"When Jimmy notified us we were team car 17 parked at the start, still in the convoy, trying to get out of the start area so it took us a fair while to get to him, but we weren't flustered by that," Christie-Johnston told Cyclingnews

"We thought 'that's okay. It's in the neutral, he has come through the entire peloton, all the commissaires, and I'm sure they'll hold the race up."

"But then we got to Jimmy and he pulled over. We did a bike change and whilst in the process of doing the bike change the tail vehicle of the race went past us and they obviously didn’t see us," said Christie-Johnston.

"We did the service and then Jimmy's chasing back on through what was now some traffic, not the convoy. So what we were expecting was for the race then to be stopped and Jimmy to be allowed to return because it happened in neutral. That didn't happen. So the only alternative we have is to either leave Jimmy and make him ride out unsupported or we take the risk of motor pacing for four kilometres."

Christie-Johnston said the team had spoken to the chief commissaire after they noticed the time penalty to find out what had happened and then asked to appeal, but were told it was not an appealable offence.

"It's very frustrating when there's an error made on their behalf and you don't have the right to be heard," said Christie-Johnston.

The team also said in a statement that the "actions that led to the penalty were unjustified", adding that "the commissars error does not reflect on the race nor the event's organisation, which have been flawless."

Comment was requested from race organisers but none was available at the time of writing.

Whelan had no option but to race with a lead of about a third of what it would have been had the penalty not been applied, with dangerous overall rivals at just 30 seconds before the final decisive stage to Willunga Hill.

"He deserved the lead he got, he put a lot of effort in it and to lose that minute made it difficult. So now we've got to accept it because we have no alternative,” Christie-Johnston said.

"We get back to trying to win this race overall."

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