The Cipressa Conspiracy Theories

Arnaud Demare Sanremo

Did Arnaud Démare cheat his way to Sanremo? Even asking the question is explosive as it’s a rhetorical device, a loaded question. The Milan-Sanremo winner has seen his win tarnished by allegations first aired in La Gazzetta Dello Sport from two riders that he was driven up the climb of the Cipressa in order to get back to the peloton after his crash. So far there’s no proof but the story is interesting for the way it shows us how internet polemics and conspiracy theories work.

Observing Démare’s Strava file there’s nothing abnormal. The speed and cadence show he was pedalling all the way up the Cipressa but, in what will be a theme in this piece, this isn’t proof of much either way. When you take a “sticky bottle” you usually pedal given the bidon is not a good handhold. Still there’s no “smoking gun” and we’re looking at data and trying to find patterns but none of this can prove much in isolation. Often the claims say more about the claimants than the case at hand.

Nevertheless the Strava file could have been doctored say others but this could probably rumble given it has GPS and time and we know Démare’s start time at the race and his finish time (exactly 5.00pm) plus can work out where he was at various points along the way. So any toying with his chase to the Cipressa and over the top would have to be balanced elsewhere. So if he was 20 seconds “too fast” up the Cipressa they’d have to add 20 seconds back elsewhere and this can be checked and rumbled. Short of accusations about distorting spacetime.

As well talk of tampering there are accusations of missing power or heart rate data but this is not unusual or unprecedented. Démare doesn’t upload these data, there’s no power for his sprint win in Paris-Nice nor his training rides in his native Picardie region. Démare rides with an SRM power meter and could share the .srm file but there’s an element of having to prove his innocence. Will every other pro share their files so they can be parsed for cadence pauses?

Last night Dutch journalist Martijn Hendriks started to look at the Strava file and even this clear analysis has confused. Take the “no cadence for nine seconds” bit which has been doing the rounds as evidence of a nine second push up the climb. Look closely and the timeline shows the crash, then the nine second without cadence… and then the Cipressa climb begins. So there was no nine second break on the Cipressa. Zooming in the nine seconds happens on the Via Aurelia just where the road drops into San Lorenzo al Mare and goes underneath the railway line, a descent. It’s possible Démare got a sticky bottle but it’s possible he was freewheeling downhill on someone’s back wheel too.

Démare’s facing “prove you’re not beating your wife here” questions, allegations that try to make him dance to the tune of the accusers rather him than saying “bring me your proof”. We’ve seen it before, Chris Froome went down this avenue with his VO2 Max test only to find his accusers waiting to ambush him with new questions. An SRM file and a VO2 Max test won’t prove anything, it just helps tell a story.

Giovanni Visconti 2015 Giro

To the most frequently asked question in the inbox today: how can a sprinter like Démare be faster than a climber like Visconti, the Giro mountains prize winner, up a climb like the Cipressa? It’s both a loaded question and a great example of selection bias. Two for the price of one. Yes Démare’s Strava time is three seconds faster than Visconti up the Cipressa and yes Visconti is the Giro mountains prize winner. Only what’s been forgotten is that the Italian wasn’t the first over the top of the Cipressa, that glory went to Team Sky’s Ian Stannard who led the Italian as they passed Cipressa’s church through the bottleneck; you might remember the back of the peloton getting stuck here on Saturday. Only since Stannard doesn’t use Strava there’s no record of his online climbing times and leaving us with the “how did Démare beat the climber” questions. If Ian Stannard used Strava then “70kg Démare two seconds faster than 80-83kg cobble eater” would not have the same accusatory frisson. It’s also an example of the loaded question, a common courtroom and political interview ploy. Again none of this clears or convicts, it’s just interesting to watch people using it.

Stannard and Visconti pass the church in Cipressa

Regarding the rules FDJ’s DS Frédéric Guesdon say there was a motorbike commissaire nearby so there could be no taxi ride for their rider. Of course there’s an element of “they would say that, wouldn’t they” but it should be easy to find out who the commissaires are and who was monitoring the “barrage” of cars behind the peloton. Guesdon does say Démare got a bottle but it’s not clear where it happened, something which could be followed up. Reverting to the Strava data, there’s a moment where Démare’s speed picks up, it’s the same place where Visconti attacked, just after the Lingueglietta bend and for six seconds his speed lifts: was this the sticky moment? Either way it’s up to the teams to make a formal complaint here rather have a trial by media and so far there’s no report of any UCI investigation.

Unsurprisingly witness credibility is another buzz topic as the courtroom classic gets deployed online. After Matteo Tosatto and Eros Capecchi made their claims in La Gazzetta their words have been analysed in the third degree. We should remember the context, imagine you are interviewed after a 300km race, how coherent would you be? The point isn’t to rubbish their claims, just to suggest the two riders are not giving courtroom quality testimony in calm conditions under oath. It explains why Capecchi said Démare “came past at 80km/h” he probably meant, no pun, a figure of speech, to illustrate what he saw. If the Strava data are accurate then Capecchi may have got the speed wrong but this doesn’t affect the underlying claim Démare “had grabbed onto the right of the team car” said the rider. This doesn’t stop some from rubbishing Capecchi’s claims along the lines of “if he can’t get the speed right then he can’t be trusted” but this is a logical fallacy, tackling the play and not the ball. Few of us are good at judging the speed of a moving object but we’d surely know a rider grabbing a car when we see it. Others have attempted to undermine Capecchi by saying he’s an Astana rider, a baggage loading attempt while some retort “what about Nibali?” citing the Astana team leader’s ejection from last year’s Vuelta a España after getting the stickiest of bottles. So what about Nibali? If Capecchi has made a serious allegation it remains serious, regardless of the antics of others.

Meanwhile in France there’s been a curious response among many. Some say Démare’s win has upset certain teams and the Italians, that Gazzetta is trying to dirty Démare. There’s been a Gallic circling of the wagons which looked odd with some experienced journalists rushing to defend Démare on Sunday before he’d even spoken on the matter later that day.

Perhaps the most amusing, but also worrying, aspect has not been a logical fallacy here or some selective bias there but downright nonsense. As a sign of how out of control things got Italian cycling website Tuttobici proclaimed in capitals “Sanremo. Here’s the photo that nails Démare” linking to a page on their website with a grainy image of an FDJ rider alongside the team car. Only a saccadic glance could have told us it wasn’t the Cipressa: the road is wide and flat and the buildings don’t match anything on the Cipressa. Indeed the image was taken on the Passo del Turchino, some 140km away. Tuttobici made a mistake, it’s human but it’s serious when you’re accusing someone of cheating and, at pixel time, they’ve yet to correct it. The point here is that nonsense gets traction and in no time the claim was spreading around social media, even Etixx-Quickstep team manager Patrick Lefevere, someone who you’d think knows what the Cipressa looks like, was mischievously tweeting the story.

Is Démare innocent or guilty? Who knows, there’s been a claim but nobody has the evidence. It’s not for a mere sports blog to pronounce a verdict. That’s why we have the police and a judiciary, it’s why we have the UCI and commissaires. Short of a formal complaint and follow-up Démare crashed, chased, got back on and won the sprint. Maybe he got a little assist but that’s what happens in cycling, there were stage winners in the Tour de France being filmed getting sticky bottles up mountain passes and prominent spring classics winners getting boosts from the team car to help them get back to the breakaaway they’d crashed. No I’m not going to name and shame, just as the accusers and defenders making the all points above are not named as this piece is more about the how and why events get treated by social media and media rather than the who.

Biases, fallacies and even outright lies appear and all these devices are the nutrients of conspiracy theories. We’re no better than our ancestors, they had pitchforks and we have smartphones. The worrying thing is that this is only Milan-Sanremo, a bicycle race on a Saturday afternoon. What happens when it comes to judging someone for a crime in court, can a jury be swayed so easily? What about electing a government, can a politician manipulate the media and the crowds so deftly? Is that a rhetorical question?


232 thoughts on “The Cipressa Conspiracy Theories”

  1. Superb piece. I know of a certain large country that could use someone sensible to run for political office- excellent riding, wine is outstanding these days, generally nice people. Could we interest you?


  2. As always an excellent column. Cutting through the hyperbole to present the facts in a sensible manner.

    Also if people don’t follow ‘UK cycling expert’ on twitter you should check that out as well – also highlighting the absurdity in some twitter comments but in a slightly more tongue in cheek manner than this wonderful blog.

  3. Spot on. Innocent until proven guilty. All we have here is somebody saying someone else did something, with no proof at all. Maybe Demare did get a tow but if every cyclist who ever did this, especially after a crash or a mechanical, got disqualified then the results list after the end of races would be pretty short. Its allowed for riders to get a tow back or draft after a fall under the guise of having some sort of magic spray on their injury. Are they not allowed to contest the finish though? Even so, he won’t have got a tow the whole way and will have had to expend energy he wouldn’t have if he hadn’t of crashed.

    • “Its allowed for riders to get a tow back or draft after a fall under the guise of having some sort of magic spray on their injury.”
      No it isn’t and hasn’t been for a couple of years. There is a UCI rule banning magic spanners and sticky bottles.
      This episode has seen another little groundshift on this issue. Once the heat dies down, I’m sure we’ll get back to the recent general consensus that the UCI rule should be enforced more vigorously.
      As below –

  4. Hugely grateful for this column. The momentum of chinese whispers and innuendo was (is?) growing at a frightening pace. You’ve set this out in brilliant measured detail. Thank you!

  5. Very good piece, from which I take away two things:
    1) It is not unthinkable that Arnaud got towed. But we have to think ahead, and ask what enforcers can do to dispel all future doubts in such situations. I think this should mark the beginning of zero tolerance of sticky bottles, and slipstreaming behind cars, short of downright banning cars from the last part of the race. Enough is enough.
    2) Shitstorms are, yes, quite a dangerous aspect of modern-day public opinion dynamics. But that’s the price to pay for allowing everyone to be a provider of information and opinion.

      • If a rider (or riders) see another rider receiving a tow up a key hill of a race and later win, how should they report it? I guess no formal complaint was filed with the race director, or?
        Can the race director/UCI request the relevant gps/power file from the rider at the finish line?

      • I previously enjoyed the piece on the peculiar discursive traits in cycling culture when it comes to talking about ‘sticky bottles’, ‘magic spanners’ etc. I enjoy re-visiting it in the light of MSR 16.

        I think there is an issue more generally in cycling culture with talking about cheating as cheating. The ( in my mind) hypocrisy of procyclists and managers clamoring for lifetime bans for motors in down tubes, whilst at the same time promoting the ‘second chance’ philosophy when it comes to biological doping astounds me, as it creates a distinction between cheating to win which is ok, and cheating to win which is not ok. This contributes to these practices to be positioned separately from ‘cheating’.

    • Tows and sticky bottles are as old as the sport and thus a zero tolerance stance is unworkable.

      Are viewers so unseasoned they don’t know of the practices as well as the crying that follows? It’s an honest question.

      • Pierre-Jean and others,

        Please don’t read it as a slight to the post to which I replied. Not the case. I posted too quickly.

        I just don’t understand how everything about the issue is not understood as part of the sport.

      • Seems that way. A good counterpoint is listening to an interview with Sean Kelly I think on the Cyclingnews podcast this week. They asked him about Demare and his response was basically “if all we’re talking about is drafting behind the car, then who cares; it’s a part of the sport and if you’re in that position you’re going to do it.”

    • I have a growing opinion on all the righteousness the public has brought to cycling over the last ten years. Nobody felt more defrauded than I when it started to become clear what kind of a person LA really was and what Postal had done. But, bottles have been sticky for as long as there have been bottles, racers have bought and sold wins for 200 years, I love the stories of Poulido and Anquetil, and I appreciate the days of the Patron.

      Now, I don’t know what the answer is, but if you did scrub out every thought of unethical behavior, it might not be the sport we love so much.

      • You are not alone with that opinion, believe me! I am so fed up, too! If it goes on this way in 5 years those people will have succeeded in destroying a sport that lasted over 100 years in only 10-15 years. In 5 years the World Tour will probably be some kind of World Wrestling Federation on bikes: riding 50km outside of a town and then 50km of lapping some city-parcours. Weekly rematches between the same teams, on the same parcour, same riders, in a controlled league system, with scripted stories and results, where the teamowners will get rich through betting and selling the whole circus to rich mall-owners for having a race when a mall gets opened or to teenagers for their 16th birthday party. But I doubt even THAT would open the eyes of certain people who are all the time busy bringing the sport down. They still would think they are the ones who know it all and better than everybody else.

        But don’t worry, in some countries cycling is really part of the culture, really is part of the society and there the sport will always live on. In those countries it will always find a way to survive. Hopefully then outside of the UCI. That really is my hope. It would then maybe not be a “world-sport”, but it would be at least again a sport with a meaning, a purpose. And hopefully some common sense and respect towards the sport and others.

    • I’ve been watching races probably longer than most people here, and I think this issue has become worse and worse, more and more blatant, and playing an ever more important role. It must be very seriously addressed. It simply undermines the quality of the show, it turns drama into a farce.
      Besides, doping apart, the biggest problem of cycling is too much peloton, too much togetherness, too much hiding behind someone else’s backside, so much that events that tear riders apart, even if they are unlucky mechanicals or crashes, are extremely valuable in terms of competitive tension, in terms of seeing riders and groups chasing one another (which is what cycling is about). This value must be preserved, and not compensated by tricks such as taking advantage of cars.

      • I’m sorry, but no. This is not a problem that’s growing. It was far far worse in past. In the 80-90’s riders could and would get towed up entire climbs to make time cut or rejoin groups.

        What’s changed is there are far more TV cameras across world tour races and we see more pictures than ever of a declining infraction.

        Ever since 2011 race commissaires have been delivering stronger and stronger communication to team directors at races about tolerance for sticky bottles and caravan procedures. For both standard service and mechanical recovery.

        There’s a huge difference today (positive change) and I say that having personally driven hundreds of days in caravans in races across the world over the last 15 years.

  6. I too was thinking that people were missing the point that Visconti went no faster than Stannard. If anything there were probably a dozen riders in the group who could have gone up faster but were biding their time. Here is a list of other big riders who have broken away on either the Cipressa or Poggio – none have are regarded as climbers.
    Cancellara, Ciolek, Chavanel, Goss, Pozzatto, Sagan, Celestino, Jalabert, Kelly, Offredo, Ballan.
    Demare’s U23 ride was a strong sprint, from distance and with great timing. He’s always had class, and if anything I’m surprised Petit and Fenn (2nd and 3rd that day) haven’t accomplished more.

    • Jalabert? Who won Fleche Wallone twice, Lombardia, Paris-Nice three times, Romandie, Catalunya, Pais Vasco. As well as two TDF KoM wins. A Vuelta KoM win. And of course the Vuelta GC. I’d probably call him a climber, at least a Punchuer.
      I’d also call Kelly more than just a sprinter, there’s a reason he won a lot of tough GC’s as well as 2 L-B-L’s and 3 Lombardias.

      • I can see your point but its a shame to have to use Jalabert to make it. He did all those things but he was also a cheating hound. Kelly, I’ll give the benefit of the doubt.

        • Hey, Jalabert’s just one of eleven riders I listed, and those are just ones in groups that managed to stay away, not just get away.
          I’d also add that Jalabert’s career is one of two halfs; his 1995 MSR was the green jersey period (his Fleche victory that year came out of a breakaway), and that his climbing exploits came later when he was a different rider for various reasons.
          The point still remains though that after 280Ks and on a big ring hill, it’s not in and of itself suspicious that a Classics rider can KOM these hills.

  7. Thank you for that cool breeze on a humid day, Inrng. Can you publish this again on the eve of the TDF, before the annual shouty knicker twisting festival begins?

  8. Nicely done, that’s a lot of work. I think that was a rhetorical question, was that innuendo as well?

    The one part of the gossip that I don’t understand is did Demare delete and then reload his Strava data? If this in fact did happen, what reasons could there be?

      • It may have auto-uploaded with the data series for power and heart rate. Since only few pros (mostly domestiques) upload those data series, it is only normal for any professional team to take it down and upload one that only carries speed and cadence. Golden Cheetah for example lets me chose which data series I upload.

      • I’ve been waiting for this kind of intelligent, reasoned argument since Sunday, Inrng – brilliant, as usual.

        It’s more than troubling to me that Strava is being touted by the public as some form of evidence that supercedes the UCI’s ability to adjudicate their own races, and render the results legitimate. I’m still waiting to hear any confirmation that Capecchi and Tosatto actually went through formal processes and lodged a formal protest over the result with the UCI Race Commissaires. Seems all they did was capitalise on an opportunity to throw accusations to the media. The use of Strava to ‘verify’ tiny nuances in performance (9 sec cadence gap?? really??) is now as though we collect blood and urine samples for drug testing, to verify that someone is clean. This is another form of testing – data samples – for which there is no strict protocols on how those samples are collected, stored, or analysed. For the accusers to say something to the effect, “UCI can’t do anything because there’s no video, but it’s easy to prove to us – he just has to release his data and he can prove his innocence” is new – up until now, it’s mostly cycling fans that have demanded ‘data’ to analyse and prove guilt or innocence. Froome has been subject to it after many ‘suspect’ performances. And predictably, for many the data will never prove innocence, and it’s being interpreted in ways that ‘prove guilt’. This is the first time a race result has been immediately questioned in the media by other riders, who are also demanding to see race data to prove the innocence of the accused. And sadly, it won’t be the last. Look how easy it is to accuse someone of cheating with no evidence, and look how easily some people believe the accusations. Until the UCI adopts HR, power, or GPS rider-generated data as an official metric available to it to adjudicate races, with the necessary strict protocols and internal consistences to guarantee validity, then relying on what is essentially a commercially-interested, optional unregulated data set is a bit ridiculous, in my opinion. Either way, Strava would absolutely be loving the free publicity, and it won’t be long before Velon will be using this episode as justification for how (their) onboard telemetry is necessary for the UCI to adopt officially. Not to propogate any more conspiracy theories, mind you 🙂

        • It’s more than troubling to me that Strava is being touted by the public as some form of evidence

          Correct. Most users don’t seem to understand it works nothing like wayz, tomtom or whatever directions app you have. The gps radios used are very imprecise in location, speed, and distance. Wildly so. Strava does nothing to control for the inaccuracies.

          Garbage in, garbage out.

  9. Great, interesting piece, pitchforks to smartphones being the highlight. Human nature can be a wonderfully consistent thing…

  10. Brilliant as usual inning and the only thoughtful analysis I have read so far.
    The last paragraph makes me think of Lance Armstrong and how lucky the world is that he was just a bike racer and not a politician.

  11. I’ve just seen the latest ‘How the Race Was Won’ video from Cosmo Catalano; find the ‘tow’ theory a little harder to believe having seen this — the team cars were seemingly cut off by others at the front of the convoy, as Demare passed them, plus Pete Kennaugh also managed to get back on, and he was involved in the same crash.

  12. Real Strava pro’s know that you don’t get KOMs by finishing first at the top.

    You catch the group from behind and then summit mid-pack. Keep the draft for as long as possible.

  13. what a top notch post…chapeau Inrng

    having said that I’ve taken a certain guilty pleasure in all the furore over the last 48hrs… sometimes I can feel at a bit of a loss after the crescendo into MSR, but this has been more fascinating than a political whodunnit.

    anyway, wasn’t our man Sam in position on the road? – surely he can lay all our worries to rest with a first hand account….

    • On the Poggio…:-)

      (tho if I could work out a way of watching the race on the Cipressa, and then get over to the Poggio ahead of the bunch. I’d pay good money for that!)

  14. As INRNG says with fixed time points and other rider’s reference data it would be pretty tricky to manipulate your GPX file to remove evidence of any extensive ‘tow’. Strava collects a lot of data points.
    I would imagine not something that would be done quickly by a non expert in response to an allegation of cheating.

  15. I don’t know about saccades but I am going cross-eyed trying to work out this story.
    I wonder if it originated simply from a tired rider wishing to get a journalist off his back and giving a quote and then being backed up by the rider standing next to him. Otherwise

    • I am not aware that Démare is especially disliked or that there is any team history
    • Neither Tinkoff nor Astana lost out in the final outcome of the race as a result of Démare being there at the finish
    • Nationalism may be at play, but
    • Tosatto is a grizzled pro who has probably seen most things in cycling by now and yet he found Démare’s tow exceptional enough to call up a remark and the also- experienced Capecchi agreed
    • When asked for more it seems Tosatto did not describe exactly how Démare was being towed except that he noted he did not see him on the team car window. A detail in what Capecchi described is that of Démare ascending the Cipressa on the right hand side of his FDJ team car. Having ridden that hill, maybe Inrng would know if this is the deep gutter side of the road or if it is significant/beneficial/risky in terms of natural riding line; but it seems essentially the wrong side of the car and hidden from the main racing groups
    • The two Italians had done their jobs in their teams by the time they were passed. Other riders around them were not in contention and if they stayed the course would be 4 minutes or so behind the winner; perhaps they are not exercised to speak out because there is no point now that it’s all over
    • Orica have kept quiet, though, I think
    • Is it enough that the race judge should feel bound by video evidence alone?

    As Inrng notes the FDJ team DS admits Démare took a bidon whilst chasing back – in all likelihood that is an infraction – you don’t think about drinks whilst chasing back unless it is to get a sticky bottle at the very least.

    As Tosatto’s later remarks the day after the race suggested, there is a cogent argument to use GPS/ bike transponder data to fix rider’s positions during races (Démare did not change bikes after his crash). At MSR this year it was once more a nightmare for the international watching public to know which riders were where in the run in to the finale.

    Doubtless Catalunya will take over the immediate interest now and the MSR story will quickly fade as things move on. But Démare’s win is destined to be forever questioned.

    Yet I think it is important for the UCI to follow up and act on the technology of capture of real-time, individual bike-tracking for the general benefit of the sport -both to guard against such stories as this one and to improve the experience of the spectators down the line.

    • As you say, you are going cross-eyed trying to work this out, perhaps it was the eye witness account of a couple riders who were cross-eyed after 300 kilometres on the bike!

      There definitely are a couple surprising aspects of this story and I’m sure the truth lies somewhere between initial accusations and Demare’s complete innocence.

      Two points stand out for me:
      1) Do Tosatto/Capecchi have any other people confirming their story? I don’t know the Cipressa that well, would any bystanders have seen this?
      2) Demare/FDJ admit to taking a bottle but did “nothing wrong”. As CM points out, why take a bottle with 20km to go (about 20 minutes), or while climbing, plus everyone usually gets a slight tow from a bottle. So, it’s easy to assume he took a short tow from a bottle (5-10 seconds), but how bad would this be? Would this short boost have given him enough momentum to cover the lost distance from the crash? I doubt it would, and these small tows are pretty common, but still it is not the most sporting thing to do. However how bad is this really?

      One more thing to consider, I feel like if Gaviria didn’t crash, Arnaud could have taken a plane up the Cipressa and no one would care!

  16. To me, all this points to is, how do we prevent this from happening again? How about we put more officials on course to police key sections? Put a helmet cam on every rider, so they can submit they’re own evidence. There should be no time during a race for a racer to cheat without witnesses.

    I’m so sick of the grey areas of cycling rules and enforcement!

  17. I’ll make cycling great again. And if that was a shot at me at the end of the piece, stay tuned (you can’t ignore me, can you?) and you’ll find out what “rumble” really means. It’s gonna be terrific. You Australians should stay in Europe where you belong and learn to speak English instead of spouting disgusting insults about nice people who exercise their right to wave pitchforks.

    PS- You’re right about one thing: “Démare crashed, chased, got back on and won the sprint. Maybe he got a little assist but that’s what happens in cycling…”

      • See? Can’t ignore me. I like you gabriele, you’re a nice guy, very knowledgeable…maybe you can serve in my cabinet? Get in touch and let me know your salary expectations. And yes, Drumpf is a common name in the region on the border between Germany and Australia. Some worthless liberal bureaucrat got the name wrong at Ellis Island when my great-great-grandfather came here looking to expand the brand. Cost him a fortune changing all the signage, but I promise you that loser got fired.

        • I’ll serve wherever the invisible short-fingered hand of the Free Market needs me (for an according pay).
          I’ll offer as a Free Sample of my premium services one strategic suggestion: you should not forget to threaten to sue someone around here, be it that rhethorical terrorist inrng, that cheater Démare, that sort of arab Bouhanni, that uselessly stylish Madiot, that anarcoid-liberal J_Evans, that espalda mojada Gaviria (hey man, keep yourself behind the wall, will you?), that traitor of true USA values Larry T (why would you ever need to bring American people elsewhere as if they needed to see something different from Iowa?) or maybe even me (please, just remember you don’t really need to actually sue, it’s all about saying you’ll do that). And Brammeier, too, just in case Nibali had eventually decided to pass.

          • Great! Now you’ve done it. You actually made me smile. Glad I am not part of that list and don’t have to call my non existent lawyer.

  18. Given the photos and video I have looked at it’s hard to believe that he would have taken any large amount of tow…

    At the bottom they were around 25-30 seconds behind the front of the peloton.

    Then there are the photos of him behind 3 OGE riders – that was 2.5km from the top.

    And then there are further images 1km from the top that show him on the far side of the screen about 10 seconds behind the peloton – he’s behind a BMC car which is pulling away.

    Find it hard to imagine an FDJ car having that much room and time to get up there and give a meaningful assistance to him in that 1.5km period on that road. Especially given that if the tow was that ‘disgusting’ then the OGE riders he would’ve just left for dead would certainly say something…

    • Totally agree – the OGE riders wouldn’t really complain if other riders take sticky bottles, but surely they would go ballistic in this situation if Arnaud left their slipstream and took a tow to the top.

  19. BRAVO! Well done sir. No hysteria, just the facts. If no better evidence comes forward, Demare’s win has to stand but perhaps the entire feeding from the car issue needs to be revisited? Or perhaps the existing rules just need to be strictly enforced with a few riders and team car drivers made examples of?
    While we’re on the subject of conspiracy theories, did anyone else notice this?
    R.I.P. Pirata, now we know you were robbed, just as you claimed.

    • “No hysteria, just the facts.” ….
      “R.I.P. Pirata, now we know you were robbed, just as you claimed.”

      Often the claims say more about the claimants than the case at hand.

      • But then Pantani was riding to the rule of the day – the 50% haematocrit rule.
        Yes, there were other rules – such as ‘Don’t take drugs’ – but almost everyone else was also breaking those rules. And, I believe, a rule is how it is applied, not merely how it’s written.
        I’m not saying he was ‘robbed’, but – if this is what happened – he was ‘subjected to different rules’ than the other riders.
        And it is far more serious that the cycling authorities were cheating than that one rider was cheating.

  20. You’re missing the point here. The crux of the problem is that the UCI hasn’t hit down on “sticky bottles” in the peleton, and the grey zone has now been exploited to the full in a “desperate situation”. How many times have we seen riders hanging on to cars via bottles in the peleton on live tv? Hundreds of times probably. Why wasn’t Nibali banned for the entire 2015 season last year (or stricter) after having held on to a car?… The whole situation is especially absurd when the UCI is seeking a lifetime ban for mechanical doping, but allowing riders to hang on to cars via sticky bottles in the pro peleton. Nibali can hang on to a car uphill, caught red-handed on film, and be back racing the next week, but Femke Van den Driessche is to be banned for life for having a bike with a motor inside – which wasn’t even used. That makes absolutely no sense.

    And what do you mean by no smoking gun? There are witnesses. Thats all we need.

    The UCI needs to get there act together.

    • There’s an allegation made by two riders to a newspaper. If these riders and there teams want have a trial by media, that’s their choice. But you seem to be saying they should go to the UCI and make a formal complaint, right? That’s not happened and so in the meantime the trial happens online.

      I agree that the culture of “sticky bottles” is odd and maybe this could be looked into, whether the culture can be changed and issues like enforcement, deterrent (ie perhaps more than an N-hundred Swiss Franc fine, trivial for millionaire teams and riders).

      • If the UCI is paying attention they should have been on the phone with Tosatto and Capecchi on Saturday evening as soon as these allegations surfaced. They should also demand the full SRM-data from FDJ. And they should immediately issue a statement that they will going forward hit down hard upon all car-hanging… including sticky bottles.

        • Believe me we do already. This particular point is always – always – emphasised during team managers meeting. We clamp down on this more often than you will know.
          Problem is: It is not always the situation you watch on TV that we see and also: You rarely get to read the communiques afterwards, these are not broadcast.

          • I’d second this, the commissaires do what they can and race communiqués are full of fines and little penalties for riders caught in the act.

            One thing for the UCI to consider in general is the deterrent effect of a 100 Swiss Franc fine, collecting a few might weigh on the budget of an U23 team but it’s near meaningless for a World Tour team. A topic covered last summer by the way if people want more, such as the fine for a sticky bottle:

          • BTW, for this edition of MSR you can read the full final communique here

            Having the communiques published are an organisational matter. It is not like they are confidential or anything. As a jury, we draw them up, hand them to the secretary, proof-read and sign. So the organiser is free to publish if he wishes. Some do, some don’t.

          • Thank you for the communique.
            For me the interesting part is the fines section:
            Art. 12.1.040 – 11.1.1
            Pushing off against car.
            92 COUSIN Jérôme, FRA19890605 (COF)
            50 CHF fine
            Art. 12.1.040 – 29
            Unseemly behaviour in front of the public.
            52 BURGHARDT Marcus, GER19830630 (BMC)
            62 BENEDETTI Cesare, ITA19870803 (BOA)
            67 SELIG Rudiger, GER19890219 (BOA)
            82 HONKISZ Adrian, POL19880227 (CCC)
            94 LAPORTE Christophe, FRA19921211 (COF)
            193 CURVERS Roy, NED19791227 (TGA)
            50 CHF fine each
            Equipment checks have been performed by UCI Technical Delegates on 165 bicycles, including those of the 3 best-placed riders and of the following teams:
            TNK – AST – BOA – COF – DDD – MOV – STH – KAT – TNN

          • Whoever proof read the communique apparently didn’t do a good job.

            Arnaud Demare è nato Beauvais (FRA) il 26/08/1991 ed è professionista dal 2012.
            Arnaud Demare est née à Beauvais (FRA) il 26/08/1991. Il est professionnel depuis 2012.
            Fabian Cancellara was born in Beauvais (FRA) il 08/26/1991. He is professional since 2012.


        • Read my comments above and those of uhj – who is clearly an official or race organizer. This rule is being stressed and enforced. It’s also not so simple and can’t be viewed so black and and white. There needs to be some discretion in its application and anyone who’s worked in a pro bike race caravan understands this.

        • No, it’s not up to the UCI to chase media allegations made by riders. It’s up to the riders to go through the formal process of lodging a formal protest with the Race Commissaires, and following proper processes and presenting their evidence. Why didn’t they do this?

    • I agree Martin. The UCI must get tough on this. A zero tolerance policy I think. Hanging onto cars at all for any reason barring injury and it is the medical car you are hanging on to should be a DQ from any race you are taking part in. A DQ.

    • The problem with this grey area is that in many situations holding the bottle or car makes things far safer for the rider in the caravan.

      So how do u allow that, and ban-eject the riders from race in other situations?

      Often riders are collecting bottles at times when the race is pretty full on. The roads are narrow the car is moving a but left or right while the rider is inches from the door moving at 60+ kph!!

      A sticky bottle regulates speed and moves the rider with the flow of the car – in a very safe way. Then transfers enough momentum for him to move away for a few seconds, ride no hands. Stash bottle and come back for more – much more safely.

      When the race is slow the final sling can shoot the rider straight back into back of bunch – but when the race is full on that never happens. At best it gets gets him halfway across the gap from commissaires car to the bunch and the rider is stuck in no man’s land – for what can feel like an eternity at 60kph with 7-10 bottles jammed up your jersey. Or if you’ve just moved through 30+ cars coming back from a crash or puncture.

      The problem with this grey rule is that making it black and white will mean we’ll have huge attrition rates in races if we crack down on the ‘accepted’ sticky bottle and riders drafting back through the caravan – we’ll see grand your bunches reduced to 50-60 guys in the first week. And classics with the drama of San remo finishing with only 30 guys.

      If demare took a huge tow he cheated. But if he took 1-3 normal sticky bottles while battling back on the cipressa and did what he did last Saturday, then 95% of his peers are in awe of his performance. Because 100% of them take a sticky or two in the same situation he was in on Sunday and know it is 100% not the way you want to maximize your chance of success with 30km to go in San remo. If it was you’d be seeing tons of fake crashes at crunch time in the big classics.

      This is probably why orica and Mathews haven’t said boo! 90% mm did same thing and simply respects what AD did at the ebd.

      The rule needs to remain grey, and be enforced with reasonable discretion of the commissaires. IMO

      • I have no problem with the rule remaining grey- this Demare non-incident is largely bringing forth solutions in search of a problem, IMO. But given the points about safety at the top of bt+si’s post here, I do like Larry T’s idea of looking for an alternative to feeding from cars. Unfortunately I can’t think of one, but if the interaction between riders and team cars could limited to talking and drafting (no physical contact) the situation might be both significantly safer and easier to officiate.

        Also I find it fascinating how many sticky bottle instances seem to offer no meaningful benefit to the rider at all, yet are done in view of TV cameras (or I would not have seen them). Perhaps it is more a matter of morale boost than physical advantage in many of these cases. I’m sure there is room for diagreement about whether THAT is cricket or not too…

        • An alternative to feeding from cars , although not perfect, would be to put two bottle cages on and and stuff an extra bidon in the pocket. That would get everyone , even the team leaders to a feed zone. It’s what we entry fee paying fans do all the time. Not difficult, especially if everyone has to do it.

        • I would like to see interaction between riders and cars reduced as well. Its not limited to feeding though. A European race can see dramatic terrain and weather changes over 200-250 km of racing.

          The riders come back for gear – hats, MIT’s, vests, jackets etc. Sometimes they need new shoes and helmets.

          You can’t make that neutral…

          Having these apparel changes might be viewed as a luxury… But I think not. A bad weather race is just hard and changing in and out of appropriate clothing can mean the difference between staying in a tour and giving up on a bad day.

          Again, were talking about changes here that have a huge impact on % of finishers in the biggest races.

          Lots of comments on this post (in general) show a real lack of insight into what really goes on in the caravan, why, and the challenges of changing it. And I say that hoping there is a way to reduce the cars…

          • Been There + Seen That – very reasonable and rational points throughout your insightful comments. Thank you. This situation is not a call for a technological explosion to micro-manage every pedal stroke of the peloton. Let them race. If someone commits an egregious infraction and/or develops a reputation for such behavior, it will get policed by the commissaires or eventually “handled” by the riders. The spirit of the race has evolved by the riders as much by the fans. And blatant cheaters aren’t tolerated. I don’t believe Damare did anything improper and this whole discussion and it’s outrageous tangents are purely social media driven. It was a very good race and deserving champion. Chapeau Arnaud Demare and FDJ!

  21. There is a straightforward way out of this. The UCI must mandate all data files be lodged with them in a database after every UCI World Tour Race. Of course, some will object. But we are in the age of data now. We can know what Demare’s power data was and this would prove if he got a motorised assistance up the Cipressa. In such a data age the governing bodies must make use of every assistance they can get. They should start a mandatory database.

    • It could be done but the UCI struggles with lots of things on a limited budget, can you imagine the costs of having to review 200 different data files almost every day, maybe 300 or 400 when we have simultaneous races on the same day? That said there could be an algo to detect when a rider is going uphill but not producing power and the software flags this up, a bit like the bio passport gets trigged.

      • But you wouldn’t have to review 200 would you? In this case you’d only have to review one. It would simply be a database that was there when cases like this arose, mandatory for all riders and teams. Most of the time it would just be information sitting there. But, when necessary, it would be useful info for adjudicating just such a case as this one. But, as you suggest, there are other data collection methods that could be used just as well, speed vs power output measurement being just one.

        • You would still have to collect all that data, upload it, store it. Multiply that by the number of races per year. If it were 50 riders complaining this would have more credence. 2 riders? Not so much.

        • Why would you only review this one rider’s data because of the words of two riders?

          If you review them all then we can see how Tosatto and Capecchi never take any tows or hold onto bottles.

      • Agreed with Inrng, this would open up the UCI to a world of problems they don’t have the resources to handle. Plus, even if they did have the resources to look at 200 files per day in entirety, data files offer up more questions than they answer!

    • Oh gawd, please no! We might well be “in the age of data now” but bicycles are primitive things you have to pedal, why do we need to make the sport as technical as F1 or MOTOGP?

        • No, I don’t want the results to be “correct’ at any price. There’ s got to be something like freedom, creativity and instinct to it all. And common sense. And that is more worth than a race result! Otherwise why not lock the riders in a gym, make them have a spinning race., while we get shown films of streets, to make it less boring. Then you surely get “correct” sterile results: No wind, no rain, no bad streets, no positioning, no crashes, a dream, isn’t it???

        • I say I never read comments from Anonymous and his friends but since the guy replied directly to you I read it. +1. The question of “fairness” is something for the North American sports leagues with their instant replay and endless delays while the referees consult with “the booth” before continuing play. Unless there’s more evidence against Demare, the results should stand and Tosatto and Co. can grumble all they want. I want less technology and the “fog of war”.

    • Files submitted after the race are to easy too manipulate. Before data records can be turned into the evidence that many posters here think it already is, we need a new generation cycling data recording system with more focus on data integrity. It is easier and less risky to hack files than bikes or medical samples, thus even easier to cheat with that kind of evidence, and then we should know by now: that’s one way cheating will be attempted.
      Real-time data transfer might be one of the changes that could reduce the risk of data being tampered with, as it won’t be possible to edit a particular riders data after, for example, a towing incident, Nibali type. Didn’t Dimension Data (the company, not the team) supply something like that for last year’s Tour de France?

  22. Great write-up, as we would expect. (Not so sure about the wife-beating reference, though.)
    The level of BS on the internet reaches staggering proportions.
    I feel sorry for Demare: seems likely that it was nothing more than what everyone else does – a sticky bottle and not a tow – especially as there are no other witnesses.
    Wonder why Capechi and Tossato decided to break the usual cyclists’ omerta. And they get away with making the accusations.
    As for the UCI, we can expect nothing from them: Cookson’s too busy agitating to shorten the Vuelta to make room for all those money-making races from the Middle East and China.

  23. “What about electing a government, can a politician manipulate the media and the crowds so deftly? Is that a rhetorical question?”

    Here in the US we now have Trump. Question answered.

    • That’s what I was getting at above. And you may think I am kidding if I tell you to google “Tour de Trump bike race,” but try it…

  24. I’m french, so I won’t be impartial on this. I just wanted to explain some reactions from the French “experienced journalists” : it’s been 20 years that french cycling hasn’t had a victory like this. I got interested in cycling in the beginning of the 2000’s ; well, when we had one or two riders in the first group after the Poggio, and a 13th place of Brochard, we were happy. I almost cried when Chavanel got 2nd at the Ronde, some years ago. We were really expecting this for so much time, and for those journalists, who have known Hinaut, or Jalabert, or Fignon, it must have been harder. So now we got it, after so much time, and someone come and tell us that it’s not true ? Well, we couldn’t think wisely and get angry quickly. Moreover, there’s an old, old rivality between French and Italian cycling : from Bartali who got out from a Tour because he was mistreated, to Fignon who lost a Giro apparently because of an helicopter, to Cipollini who didn’t get invited to the Tour certains years, It’s a lot, and I think the Gazzetta of Sunday was about this also : they said that the winner was not worthy of the race, that they had to change the road because it was to easy, etc. So the french journalist responded also because of that. They surely should have ignored it. It’s a shame, because all this story just ruins a little bit all the happiness I had with this victory… But Chavanel will win the Ronde and everybody will be happy (except the Belgians. They’ll say he blinded Boonen with his casquette just when he attacked).

    • Lovely comment. Tell you something: I was so sad about the way people carelessly talk/write about others, about the sheer amount of nonsense and ignorance on display, about some journalists, who really showed a low level of integrity, that I wouldn’t have thought possible before, in short: I was desperate, because people really stooped so ridicoulisly low. But your comment helped me make some peace again with us cycling fans and human beings in general. So, PLEASE: enjoy your moment and don’t let anyone take it away. As I already wrote yesterday here on the blog: I am happy for FDJ and Démare and this hasn’t changed.

  25. Yet another excellent article

    You quote: Démare’s facing “prove you’re not beating your wife here” questions….

    To be slightly pedantic isn’t more an example of “Please answer yes or no: have you stopped beating your wife?”!

    As ever, thank you for great research and reasoned writing.

    • On the pedantics, you’re right. I wanted to highlight the way people can be forced into denying things and this is the common example used, or instead of “yes or no” it’s “when did you stop” etc.

  26. This is a great column and well reasoned.
    Except that … Everything Demare said was exactly the kind of thing that the guilty say.
    Not “I did not get a tow…” More like I didn’t do anything that to a lesser degree is done all the time.
    Which could easily translate to everyone takes a sticky bottle on the flat for 30 meters… And all I did was the same thing, so what if it was 300 meters on a climb.
    And not even addressing a tow, deflecting it it to make it seem the question was about drafting behind cars.
    Then saying he never would do something to prevent a legit win in the biggest race of his life…
    Which is like time traveling back to the moment when he made a decision to take a tow or not take a tow, as if he actually knew he would win.
    There is little question that he knows he did something unsavory. It’s probably not even a question of degree… More one of whether he would be caught in a dramatic fashion.
    I’m glad you’re sympathetic to the riders and the traditions of petty cheating, but don’t act like tradition makes saints and Eagle Scouts out of people so petty that they routinely take those tiny little sticky bottles that really are not even helpful, but look like simply flaunting the fact that they don’t care about rules.
    More Nibalis is where this sympathy leads.

    • Yes. Nono didn’t say ‘No’ did he?
      He blustered and adopted similar tactics to his accusers, fighting ‘selection bias’ fire with fire.
      The whole thing’s a bloody mess.

    • Well said James. Guilty people try hard not to lie, e.g. “I have never tested positive” rather than “I have never doped”. Moreover, the power data were up and have now been taken down. Tell me where I can place a bet on this!

  27. A cool appraisal from INRNG as usual.

    We’ll never know and such is cycling. But it does seem odd that the accusations were made, and there was a slightly less widely publicised thing with Bouhani and Geschke a while ago. Geschke doesn’t seem the type to fling mud for fun, it makes you wonder.

    I don’t recall riders complaining about this in the past, which doesn’t mean much tbf. Are there other examples from earlier times that might make this seem more normal?

    You can see why Nacer was so pissed off… Arnaud, of all people. Fair play to him for today.

    Good entertainment!

    • Geschke made a tweet out of it but no more, sometimes these things happen.

      As for Bouhanni vs Démare, they were rivals on the same team at one point but Bouhanni moved, got a giant contract and now the rivalry seems to be something the media keep wanting to fan but there’s no visible or audible antagonism.

  28. Mandatory on board cams, forward and backward facing, a la F1. There would be no arguement then. Maybe all team radios should be monitored too, again like F1.

    BTW I dont care if he got a 7 sec pull but the on-board cams would solve this nonsense.

    • Sure, that would be easy! How many F1 cars are on the grid? 20? Versus 200 riders in these bike races. Who in the hell is going to monitor (gawd forbid this ever happens!) 200 front and 200 rear images + 200 rider’s radio transmissions? And let’s NOT assume the race stewards in F1 are some sort of impartial jurors rendering swift and unimpeachable justice each Sunday. Reviewing all that for 200 riders to catch rule infractions would likely take longer than the actual event itself!

      • Larry T – don’t forget to also add in the monitoring of each athlete’s data transmissions!! And blood analysis and equipment for silent monitors! And whereabouts!

        The analysis one one race alone sounds like the work for 100 full-time employees!

        Eg. 200 riders x 7 hours forward cameras + 200 rider x 7 hours backwards cameras + 200 riders x 7 hours radio transmissions + 200 riders x 7 hours gps and power data + biological passports + whereabouts + bike engine testing = Brian Cookson’s going to be busy!

  29. People keep saying there’s no evidence, but there’s two eye witnesses. Remember that no-one filmed Lance doping, nor did he return a positive sample, he was found guilty on eye witness testimony.

    For example, George said Lance gave him some EPO. Eye witness testimony. No video, no samples, no tests.

    • Two ‘eye witnesses’ (or so they claim), but with lots of others inexplicably not seeing this.
      Also, as anyone in law enforcement will tell you, eye witnesses are the least reliable type of evidence.
      As for LA, they weren’t ‘eye witnesses’, they were more accomplices. And they weren’t talking to the media, they were talking to the feds.

      • Well, I am in law enforcement (environmental law, but the rules of evidence are the same). Two, independent, eye witnesses to a crime? Worth following up if it’s a high priority offence.

        My first thought is that they aren’t talking to the commissaires because the the commissaires aren’t interested. There’s a note on Cyclingnews:

        “According to reports race judge Herve Borcque was notified of the allegations but with no video or photographic proof, the matter was taken no further.”

        I can’t tell whether that means the riders went to the commissaires or La Gazetta did.

        • Then we look forward to the next ‘eyetwitness testimony’ without evidence to back it up from a rider attesting to the ‘blatant cheating’ of another rider/winner, and the ensuing media storm that follows. To think that the UCI is not listening, or they have rejected an application for a formal protest – which triggers formal processes – is as equally conspiratorial as Demare got a tow up a hill at 80km/hr. The only reliable metrics that the UCI rely on to adjudicate in protests, is video or photographic evidence, and eyewitness evidence that is corroborated by video or photographic evidence. Digital data is not reliable enough to be used in evidence. Too many spikes in data, too much interference, no guarantee the SRM or Garmin or whatever is actually attached to the bike, no guarantee the data hasn’t been manipulated before it appears on Strava or wherever, too open to interpretation, and no solid way of definitively verifying that ‘small cadence gaps’ are evidence of literally hanging onto a car. The only evidence we have is that 2 Italian riders made some noise in the media, accusing the winner of cheating to win. Everything is pure speculation.

        • I agree that witnesses’ accounts are evidence, but would Tosatto and Capecchi really count as “independent”? They were in competition with Demare, after all.

        • Also in the environmental field, but more in the “due-diligence” part of it.

          With the same analogy, it’s much easier to cast aspersions when the burden of proof is low. Much easier for an Italian rider to make an unofficial claim in a newspaper instead of lodging a formal complaint. In your field I’m sure you’re familiar with guys that get interviewed and they say they will sue/denounce/contact the authorities… but when it’s time to formally lodge this and put some skin in the game they simply settle for media presence. How many people you know say they will press charges and then back down? This isn’t even a fraction of how serious a criminal matter is.

          From the commissar point of view – they can’t win…I’m pretty sure the complaint was never formally lodged (not in the report), and would have normally been done by a DS not a rider personally. But if the Gazetta reports it they at least have to acknowledge it and review. The Nibali case last year, for example, wouldn’t have needed a formal complaint. Just hit the replay button on youtube.

  30. This is an issue as it was made by at least two, respected experienced riders, from two different teams, who were eyewitnesses to the alleged cheat. The Race Commissioner did not act on the allegation as there were no corroborative video evidence, in pictures or video. The crux of the cheat was a tow up the Cipressa,, the “sticky water bottle” Riders often will soft pedal when receiving a tow to disguise the fact, so it looks like, to some observers, he is pedaling along side a car, and NOT being towed Cadence data can be misleading A rider being towed that way, especially if the car is accelerating can add a 10’s to hundreds of meters of distance and speed change. But more importantly. it reduces work effort that may keep the rider from going into the red zone (anaerobic) allowing him to recover fro the effort earlier and make another extreme effort at a later time.

    there are several sets of data, public and private, that can be parsed to create additional angles to the view.

    The Strava data, initially showed additional data that was redacted. True/False?
    The Strava Data showed that Demares climb on the Cipressa was the fastest of the day, outpacing light climbers like Visconti. This appears to be true as the strava data seems to be consistent.

    Beside the strava data. There are 4 other data sets that can clear this up.
    Power meter readings. Does the Strava or any other data sets include power readings. If there was a tow, it would be obvious in that a drop in wattage/effort would be clear during the tow.
    Heart rate monitor? Any heart rate monitor data, A tow would manifest itself by lowering the heart rate, while work rate stayed the same or increased However the initial adrenaline surge after a crash while the rider chases could disguise it. But not for long. The Cipressa is 10 minutes or longer. If your heart rate goes down but your speed changes upward and so does your work effort, it’s an anomaly that must be answered.

    And finally we have transponder data, which is essentially a gps identifier of the rider. All riders are required to have one, however it is not unusual for it to be knocked off a bike in a crash. It can also be unreliable as they are low powered and drop offs of the data stream are common. The transponder data though, is separate from Strava data and cannot be tampered with by the rider. If data sets are available from the race organizers for the Cipressa climb, especially changes of speed, it would be valuable to confirm the Strava data.

    And finally we have each team cars GPS transponders, all team cars have them. Some cars may have them built in like many rental cars in America do now. A comparison of the location and speed data that correlates almost exactly with a riders, while not in itself damning, is just another verification of rider/vehicle coordination. If speed changes are identical, it would be a major anomaly to be investigated.

    In and of itself, these data sets would not be enough to argue the guilt or innocence of Demare, BUT, as corroborative evidence to back up witnesses to the event, and in lieu of hard video evidence, it may serve give any official enough information to have a further investigation.

    If Demare and FDJ wish to nip this in the bud, they can simply release any data sets they have, but if they want to obfusticate or hide data, it is only a matter of time before additional hard data come forward.

  31. “We’re no better than our ancestors, they had pitchforks and we have smartphones.” They didn’t have INRNG though, so it seems that there is at least a sparkle of hope for those who want to believe in progress.
    What a mess. Can we get back to talk about the actual racing please?

  32. I am impartial NZ’er. This should be quite simple. A sprinter taking a tow up a major hill near the end of a race in MSR AND THEN winning it, is a serious allegation. We all know that free wheeling up some of the Cipressa could be the major contributing factor for the win, especially for Demare.

    We also know that this can be easily proved/disproved with power data that should be provided or requested. If it was clear that he was taking an almost free ride for more than 20-30 secs (i.e. a period where a reasonable fan would agree it breached sticky bottle “custom” for such a major race situation) he should be disqualified. Very simple. No need to complicate it or throw dirt around.

    Its easy to sweep it under the carpet BUT if you do, you open a can of worms for the future. Many sprinters will slow pedal at bottom of climb, when they reach the car they take a sticky bottle to continue to save energy and then make move on downhill. You can win a Monument this way!

    Best to take the ugly pain now, instead of starting a Italian/French cycling war and creating probably the worst precedent since Lance.

  33. Rules only count as they are applied – you can’t hold Demare to different standards in this race.
    The vast majority of the comments here are excellent – seeing grey areas instead of black and white – and coming up with some good ideas.

  34. Seriously, none of you think UCI mandated cameras are the answer to this?

    You think ridiculous +- 5% power figures are relevant when you dont know the riders weight, his position on the parcours, his position in relation to other riders?

    Put UCI cameras on all bikes when the transducers chips are allocated and mounted with all footage owned by the UCI. It happens in F1 (FOM mandated cameras) and even V8SC.

    No need for incomplete and inadequate strava/power meter analysis…just watch the bike cam footage.

    The simple answer is often the best/

    • When I read your first comment, I thought something very similar to your final sentence here.
      Then, I thought ‘Would a forward and backward facing camera provide conclusive proof that a rider was hanging on to a car?’
      And I don’t think they would – the rider could say he was just riding alongside the car.
      But I’m not sure I’m right.

      • …but wouldn’t Capecchi’s and Tosatto’s “cameras” catch him, no?

        It’s not just the riders camera, but cameras of all those around (more eyes).

      • Yes – cameras on the team cars is a better idea than on the riders bikes.

        First you would only need 40-50 vs. 200 (or 400 as some here say you need a front and back camera).

        Next you could put a bigger battery on it to ensure it records for 7+ hours.

        Finally, you’re putting cameras where you want to spot the infraction! If the concern is towing.

        One other thought in all this is that not a single sports director has come forward to confirm the accusations of Tosatto and Capecchi. For sure if Demare took a significant tow at least a few other directors saw it. It if it was grossly inappropriate they’d have lodged a complaint to the commissaires. And that doesn’t appear to be the case based on the communique that UHJ posted.

        All sports directors like to bend the rules if they can in the caravan… but, if someone takes it too far, their peers won’t hesitate to turn on them.

        Anyhow cameras on the cars would be easy and effective at catching this stuff and more practical that cameras on bikes.

  35. Thing is it’s just far too easy – and fun – to get all outraged on the internet. Thanks for the attempt to add a little context and perspective – I’m interested in the possible motives for the accusation, given that I don’t think I have a particularly good ear for gossip, but suspect nobody really knows that much about this one.

  36. So you are telling me that big Demare had enough energy to chase back on, fly up the cipressa and still unleash 64km in the sprint, where as Matthews couldn’t even catch them on the descent after sitting on his teammates and didn’t finish with the group.

    • Correct. If you watch Cosmo’s HTRWW for instance, Demare left the scene of the crash very promptly and apparently unharmed. Matthews OTOH seemed shaken, left later and was bleeding all over his handlebars.

      • I interpreted “you’re telling me” as “how is this plausible?” and tried to address that. I would also take the liberty of advocating for a general presumption of innocence but certainly did not mean to imply that the evidence we have is dispositive.

    • Matthews looked really shaken up by the crash… without the crash Matthews probably wouldn’t have had any trouble…

      Arnaud didn’t seem to have had any big issues after the fall.

    • The image on the Greenedge BSP video of MSR shows Mathews still trying to extricate his bike after the crash while Démare, with support present, looks ready to go. Mathews must have left the crash site at least 30 seconds after Démare. Mathews was chasing behind the cars aided by Albasini then Yates while Démare, I assume, already was back in the bunch.

      Despite being in the “No smoke without fire” camp, trying to take action now against Démare would be unwise. The event has however made evident the need to better enforce rules against cheating of the sticky bottle type.

  37. Thanks Inrng. A thankfully thoughtful piece.

    I only comment because I’m yet to see anyone offer the explanation that as the FDJ rider was spotted on the right hand side of the car and no one else seemed to have witnessed it, isn’t it just possible that it wasn’t Demare but a team mate and that neither Tosatto and Capecchi or Demare are lying, just a case of mistaken identity?

  38. as always…superb piece. But, this one stands out with the last sentence : “The worrying thing is that this is only Milan-Sanremo, a bicycle race on a Saturday afternoon. What happens when it comes to judging someone for a crime in court, can a jury be swayed so easily? What about electing a government, can a politician manipulate the media and the crowds so deftly? Is that a rhetorical question?”

  39. My mates Uncle’s brother’s friend saw what happened! he timed the car pull while he was running alongside it all but there were no cameras around so he can’t prove it. What an absurd state of affairs and if each bike needs two cameras on it to prove no wrongdoing in the future I think I will give up watching completely.

  40. feel really sorry for Cancellara and Sagan – 99.5% of the race done… in perfect position… then some inexperienced kid loses his head in the excitement and crashes in front of them.

      • According to Gaviria, it was completely his own fault (as much as I’m biased against GVA after his ‘thoughts’ about the Tirreno stage cancellation, he did nothing wrong).
        EBH drifts sideways gradually, GVA gradually follows – Gaviria then rides into the back of GVA.
        Certainly don’t think Cancellara would have won – against all those sprinters – and doubt that Sagan would have been able to match them either.

          • you are right of course, apologies I was just being provocative as I was getting bored of ‘the UCI should have cameras on every bike, car and street corner, take power data, have more commisaires, chase down every media story instantly, go through Vino’s dustbins etc etc blah blah…’

            awesome skill from Sagan in particular not ploughing over him.

          • Agreed – Sagan and Cancellara were unreal in avoiding Gaviria.

            Insane to see how Sagan changes direction so quickly… how is that possible without flipping over his handlebars?

  41. To anyone who follows the English Premier League (football/soccer), this whole scenario reminds me of the complete hysteria that ensues with some un-important sideshow in that league. Media created frenzy!

    I hope cycling never becomes as glossy and media focused as football, or F1

  42. For me, what this incident raises is the usual issue of the grey area over which the rules of cycling are not always consistently enforced.

    It’s standard practice for riders to get a sticky bottle or mechanical assistance in the case of a crash. This seems morally appropriate if it get’s them back to a group, it merely reduces the harm of an incident they were not responsible.

    What seems to stand out in this case is that Demare may have gained an advantage over his competitors by getting assistance during what should have been a challenging climb.

    At what point does a bit of slipstreaming shift from damage reduction to gaining an unfair advantage?

  43. If a sticky bottle is the worst incident of cheating we can find, cycling has cleaned itself up nicely. The refs either didn’t see the foul or didn’t think it was worth calling. End of story.

  44. At this point in time a few simple words sum up the 100s of interesting theories and discussions:

    ‘Official 2016 winner of MSR, FDJs, Demare, France’.

  45. This is just sport. There are Rules and Sportsmanship (a code of decency among competitors). The “Burden of Proof” should not be the topic of discussion. Basic Sportsmanship should.
    There are two parties here, the accused and the accusers. In the spirit of Sportsmanship, one party owes the other an apology. One party may likely owe more than that.

    No, Demare is not REQUIRED to share his Power Data, but why wouldn’t he? Regardless of speed, his power would have needed to at the very least look similar over Cipressa and Poggio. If the power was significantly less over Cipressa, then he cheated… no discussion (but of course he wouldn’t share that).
    True, power files can be interpreted, but give me a break… if this guy turned in an incredible effort, then his power output would reflect that. Likewise, if he got a tow, then a low wattage would reflect that. If the Data is close either way (could be guilty, but maybe not), then give the guy the benefit of the doubt. If the wattage was High, then at least he was working.
    We all know he had an SRM (the “Gold Standard” of power meters). To share speed but not power in this case is super suspect, and in my opinion lame.
    Is it really that likely that 2 guys on 2 different teams, neither with a history of making false accusations, suddenly decided that (if a French guy won MSR) they would immediately discredit his victory the same way? Really? Isn’t it much more likely that they watched Demare get towed past them, miss-guestimated his speed and then cried foul? And isn’t it more likely that Demare isn’t sharing his data because it would reflect that he cheated?
    This isn’t “have you stopped beating your wife?”. This more like refusing a breathalyzer while weaving all over and stinking of booze.

      • …for the same reason you don’t get lie detected for calling to report a drunk driver.

        This IS the court of public opinion. It is professional sports…. entertainment.
        This dude made up 40 seconds in the last half hour of a Monument going up and down two notable climbs after a crash chasing the best guys in the world. Yea, I want to see the power file. (Did he close the gap averaging 200 watts, or 500 or what?)
        No, I’m not going to give him the benefit of the doubt.

        For the sake of discussion: What if Eros or Matteo were asked to submit to a lie detector test? If they did and it was administered by a neutral party, and they passed… then what?
        If they refused, then I’d forget about it and waste my time bothering myself about something else.

        • Two notable climbs? Only because they’re in the parcours. Don’t forget that this is a Sprinters race. Don’t forget that this is the Easiest monument. Don’t forget that the road is thick with other riders and a parade of team, press and neutral support vehicles, motos and fans.

          After it’s all hashed, how the hell is he and his team car, at a total width of 3.7m (12-13′) going to thread there way through all that mess?

          • I just want the guy to release the file. Prove the Italians were Ass Holes if that’s what it comes to. By not doing it, it sure seems like he has something to hide. I wanted Chris Froome to release his Data way back when, and further back I wanted Lance to test his frozen B samples.
            Sean Kelly, in his book makes mention of both climbs, and most die hard fans have heard of them (so notable)… they aren’t hard by CLIMB standards, they are just hard enough to hurt a sprinter at the end of a long day.
            I was on the Poggio on Saturday. This wasn’t Alpe d’Huez with millions of people all over the road (not on Cipressa or Poggio, they kept people back and there were relatively few). There were already pretty big gaps between riders after the leading group. After the crash, his car wouldn’t need to “thread” much. Just pass a bunch of guys on the steeper sections of Cipressa to rejoin.
            I doubt many are questioning IF there was a sticky bottle, just how long did he hold on?
            Was he putting out an effort that could reflect a victory? Only he and team know for sure.
            Is this a Demare Fan site or something? I feel like it’s weeks before the Oprah interview and everyone is still chanting “the most tested athelete”.

          • I don’t know where you were, but I certainly wasn’t chanting ‘most tested athlete’ – an awful lot of us has been saying it for years.
            Are you letting that experience taint your view here?
            There are a lot of explanations on this page that you seem to be ignoring.
            He didn’t go up the climb that quickly, the data shows nothing, not one other witness has come out.

        • a) He could follow the cars – standard practice.
          b) As said above, the mountain goat Stannard went up the first climb quicker than almost everyone – ergo, it’s not that difficult a climb.

          • a. following cars would yield the same (close enough) power as sitting in the bunch. No issue there. His file would look like anyone else’s and this issue would be put to bed. So, why not release it?

          • According to a lot of people here – I know nothing about it myself – power files can be faked.
            Also, as Froome found – as anyone could have told him beforehand – releasing data doesn’t stop the naysayers: they just ask for more ‘proof’. In both cases, there is no ‘proof’.

          • Maybe faking power data is easy, I don’t know. An untarnished SRM power file shows what power where and when. Both of the accusers know this! For sure! What they could not have known when they made the accusations was that Demare would not release his Power data. So, why would they risk their own credibility when they knew it could so very easily be refuted?
            What I learned from Lance is that if several people who stand to gain nothing, and are risking their own reputation, start accusing you of something, you are probably guilty.

        • Oh and although he was chasing the best riders in the world, they rode up the Cipressa quite slowly, as all could see. No matter how good they are, that is the speed they were going.

      • One might also ask why no other riders commented on the alleged action:
        – cyclings omerta – which two riders ignored before being pulled back into line?
        – others did not see?
        – the event did not occur?
        The teams try to gain advantage as they can, none of the teams wants to open a can of worms, and all would love to be in the position of FDJ

        • Since we are left to speculate (which is my primary complaint) I can offer only one more variation on your possibilities:
          – There weren’t that many riders or team cars between the crash and the lead group to have seen the incident in question, so 2 riders of only 6-7 (or whatever) took notice while working on the climb and initially had the guts to say something.

          Otherwise, while I don’t like it, I agree with what you said.

  46. It seems to be assumed, both by some here and in the media, that Demare’s alleged tow could be cleared up if FDJ shared the data from his power meter. However, what would it really tell us, in isolation, if the data showed a 9-15 second gap in which there was ‘soft pedalling’? It’s widely known that it is customarily acceptable in cycling (although not supported by black-letter rules) that riders can receive assistance from a team car after a crash — e.g. to adjust breaks or to replace lost bottles. We know that Demare crashed. We know that custom allows ‘moving’ team car assistance in the event of a crash. What then would the data really add? It would show that a rider received customary assistance in the event of a crash — nothing more and nothing less.

    We might say that if the data revealed that he took a longer tow — e.g. 20-30 seconds — then he should be disqualified, because the duration of the assistance exceeded the support allowed by custom. However, we’re outside the letter of the UCI rules here and who’s to definitively say where we draw the line between an ‘acceptable’ customary tow and an ‘unacceptable tow’? In the absence of due process and precedent it would be an arbitrary line.

    As Inrng suggests, the debate here raises wider concerns. The issues here can’t be resolved in future, as some have suggested, by a mandatory log of rider data unless we have a clear, definitive statement of the rules regarding team car assistance. It is clear from current in-race practice that, despite the prohibition of such behaviour in the UCI rules, a certain amount of moving team car assistance is acceptable. What we need in the future is either: (i) a hard-line stance from race directors that enforces the letter of the UCI rules; (ii) a statement from the UCI on the ‘acceptable’ length of team car assistance. If one of these steps were taken, then data would be useful, because, in the event of a disagreement such as this, we would have a substantive test against which to judge rider conduct. At present, we do not — any review of the data would be arbitrary in that we would punish Demare for engaging in a practice that is customarily accepted in the peloton.

    Rules are valuable in that they let us judge conduct after the fact, but they are also valuable for riders in that they allow them to plan their conduct. How would a rider today know, definitively, how long they are allowed to receive assistance from a team-car for? They wouldn’t. This is the key problem here — we need some synthesis between practice on the ground and the UCI rule book.

  47. One would not have to “distort spacetime” to modify a power file to make oneself look innocent.

    If I were guilty of taking a tow and wanted to cover it up, I would leave all the speed/position/time data as-is (ie preserve spacetime). But then I’d increase my power data (and make sure my cadence data shows I’m pedaling) during the time I took a tow. Doing this would simply make it look like the power came from my legs, not the car.

    Of course, a ridiculously fast tow (ala Nibali) could not be made to look plausible. One would need crazy legs to accelerate that fast! One *might* be able to distort spacetime a bit to smooth things out, but the original file was already released (sans power), so doing that might be risky.

    All that said, in the absence of any compelling evidence of cheating to back up the accusations, we can celebrate Demarre’s excellent comeback and sprint win!

  48. There are many reason why I am so glad I came across this blog a couple of years ago. It adds to my knowledge and enjoyment of what takes place on the road and explains the nuances of what happens off it as well. This post encapsulates this perfectly. Calm, reasoned, intelligent, accessible, well written, timely and cutting through the BS of so much of the hot air that exists elsewhere.

    Thank you.

  49. It’s the fact that Demare won that is drawing such criticism to the help he got from his team car. Just like Armstrong getting a lifetime ban versus Boogard getting a relatively minor 2 year suspension for the same illegal acts, we, the public that was duped–not doped–has a stronger reaction when we find out what has happened because we feel taken advantage of by the trickster who has cheated and won, rather than the cheater who has failed despite his efforts. Our sense of moral outrage is stronger for the former. If Demare had rolled into San Remo with the gruppetto, then not one of these 183 comments would be have been posted here.

  50. so what we have ascertained is that the peleton only really got cooking on the second half of the Poggio when a few attacks left Kwiat off the front.

    I wondered what the plan was for Movistar (only a half-hearted attempt on the Cipressa), AG2R, Cannondale, Giant or Lotto-Jumbo? All the other WT teams either made some kind of effort to win/animate the race, or had a sprinter with a reasonable chance of a win/podium.

    So why are these guys happy to sit back in a slow pace, when they have no chance to win a sprint, or no apparent plan to mix it up a bit… what’s the point?

    I don’t mean to sound glib here (keyboard warrior, never ridden 300k etc etc), but I’m just trying to understand the dynamics… maybe they just don’t have the riders that suit such a race (Giant missing Dege for example) but Movistar?

  51. I’m in favor of a non-team car rule in professionnal cycling. Those 20 to 40 team cars behind the peloton could be replaced by only 10 neutral cars and some additionnal motorbikes without team bias. In these days and age of electronic devices and telecom team managers could be talking as efficiently to riders from an hostel room or a specific room/tent installed at the finish line. There are no good reason to keep team cars these days. More vehicles equal to less safety and in this case a difficulty to enforce rules.

    Mechanical ? Flats ? Just use neutral service and if it doesn’t work DNF. I’d rather add a bit of drama with a leader DNF because of a mechanical than polemics because of sticky bottles. If anything it would force the team/mechanical sponsors to use more reliable parts/tires which would benefit the end user.

    • And then how would the riders access their rain-bags if they needed jackets, mits, leg/arm warmers, fresh lenses, new helmet, change of shoes, etc, etc… bikers carry a lot of stuff in them little bags. And they come back to the cars to get it all the time.

        • And how would that work exactly? Currently one of the best benefits of radios is for this kind of service… the riders call back with instructions about exactly what they need. The mechanic roots through the bags for all the stuff. When its ready, you radio the rider(s) to come back.

          Without radios this process takes a painful amount of time. (imagine: ritchie needs long gloves, GVA wants shoe-covers, Daniel needs a new vest + a cap and knickers finally Tejay wants his ‘clear’ rainjacket – not the black one). Mechanic needs to root through 4 wet rain bags.

          This process is tough enough in a single team car dealing with just 8-9 rain bags. Can’t even fathom what it will be like on a neutral lorry with 200 rain bags? Or 10 neutral cars with 20 each?

          Next what do you do about breakaways in stage races? Where its normal for the team car to rotate a dedicated spare and the specific needed rain bag to car 2 to go service the rider in the break? How do you move 200 rain bags around xx # of neutral lorry’s to service the bunch or the break?

          Its all fine and good to suggest neutralizing all service vehicles. I just know its a huge shift in level of service the riders have become accustomed to (and legitimately need for the races they do). We’re just going to see massive attrition rates in stage races like the Giro, TDF and smaller ones, etc.

          • Oh, I agree with everything you say – sorry, I was mocking (or attempting to mock) the idea that all this could be done by neutral service: it would be an utter calamity.
            We have team cars for a reason.

          • They’d just stop being sissies. Teams move a whole lot of gear but don’t need half of them.

            Organization is key and most team are seriously lacking in that area. Let’s face it, pro road racing is a very “artisanal” sport. When you have the chance to enter this world it is crazy how bad those teams are organized. They are yet to enter the 21th century really.

            Your example of those 200 rain bags illustrate this, there is no need for a bag with gears gears per rider. No need for a lorry but a handful of neutral vans with gears neatly sorted in drawers, arranged gears, then teams, then rider number. Rider could do a request through a “neutral service” channel on the radio while still in the peloton, the gears would be ready to be handed to him once he has slipped back to the neutral van. With the gps/glonass positionning system they carry, neutral service could know at any time where is the rider, neutral service motorbikes could follow small breaks to hand gels/bars/bottles to the riders.

            It is incredible what you can do with a mercedes sprinter (or similar) and custom storage. Instead of having stupid wagons with a soigneur/mechanic having to deal with a bloody mess of drink, food, gears, wheels on the seats and bikes on the roof these things should be separated. A van for drink/food, another for gears, custom cars with a front cabin and a flat bed (similar to a pickup but without side panels and tail gate)and racks to carry bicycles by the dozen or more, wheels on bicycles.

            Would it be a huge shift to switch to neutral support only ? Sure. It would need a ton of work to do the switch but in the long run this would be the best way to go for both safety and rules enforcement. I know this can’t be a popular idea as road racing is full of people deeply attached to tradition and resistance to change is huge. J Evans’s reaction is an example of that.

          • All we’d have then is polemic about how ‘neutral service were incompetent and ruined my race’ and then the polemic about ‘how this was clearly a conspiracy’, etc. and so on.
            How would you stop neutral service being bribed for instance? Wouldn’t happen? In cycling?
            The other thing is that the team car can – usually – specifically follow the rider they most want to help, with one other team car elsewhere. Neutral service might not always manage to be so close by.
            Or know what they’re doing.
            Ask Cadel Evans about neutral service in the Vuelta.
            And going in and out of a van is always going to be slower.
            And how do you stop controversy about how ‘NS dealt with Tom first, but I was there before him’ or ‘NS were busy dealing with lots of others so I had to wait’ or ‘NS should have seen me first because I was 2nd in the race and that other bloke was 43rd’ or ‘NS were nowhere to be seen because they were busy with others’?
            There are reasons we have team cars.
            (And all this due to an over-reaction to one *alleged* incident.)

  52. No need to go in and out of the van, you are short sighted. People who like conspiracy stories always find reason to enter polemics, even inside a team between two teammates, it won’t change anything.

    “And how do you stop controversy about how ‘NS dealt with Tom first, but I was there before him’ or ‘NS were busy dealing with lots of others so I had to wait’ or ‘NS should have seen me first because I was 2nd in the race and that other bloke was 43rd’ or ‘NS were nowhere to be seen because they were busy with others’?”

    Simple, a FIFO queue. The first rider to ask get the item first. It’s not like there are 100 riders at the same time asking for gears, nor that it takes long to handle the gears to them. A domestic would still be able to get gears/food/drinks for all his teammates. There should be some redundancy but clearly not as much as having as many team cars with terrible drivers at the wheel.

    “There are reasons we have team cars.”

    Well, mostly tradition, lack of organization and having no clues.

    “(And all this due to an over-reaction to one *alleged* incident.)”

    That is your assumption, because I expressed it in a commentary about the demare conspiracy theories articles but it is nonetheless false.

    It is first a proposal to limit the number of motorized vehicles in the caravan, which is a safety issue. In the case of sticky bottles, it is not a new story, it happens every single race and it is lame. The UCI introduced a rule against it, everything must be done to enforce it. Clearly, a handful of commissaires on motorbikes is not enough to bust the cheaters. Clearly the riders, DS and team staff are not trustable people hence a proposal to limit the risks while at the same times improve safety.

    • How would people not be going in and out of the van to get stuff?
      People do like conspiracies – as we’ve seen with the Demare situation. But that doesn’t mean that neutral service would necessarily remain neutral – it would be open to possible abuse (see the alleged Pantani situation that’s been in the news lately).
      Regarding FIFO, what happens in the event of a mass crash? Surely then riders would have to wait?
      Also, FIFO could mean that a rider loses a race because he’s having to wait his turn to get neutral service. Would that be preferable to the current situation?
      ‘many team cars with terrible drivers at the wheel’ – of late, it has been the neutral vehicles (including medical and photo-motos) that have been the problem – not team cars.
      been there + Seen it has explained elsewhere how sticky bottles work. Me, I only see what’s on camera and what I see are riders getting a sticky bottle for under 5 seconds – it’s not a big deal. What happens back in the back going up an alp I don’t know.
      This idea would seem to have many more problems than the present situation.

      • “How would people not be going in and out of the van to get stuff?”

        Well no big deal, someone stay inside the cargo area and give the stuff to the cabin area or through a custom window.

        “People do like conspiracies – as we’ve seen with the Demare situation. But that doesn’t mean that neutral service would necessarily remain neutral – it would be open to possible abuse (see the alleged Pantani situation that’s been in the news lately).”

        Doesn’t change anything. The fact one is employed in a team doesn’t mean he wouldn’t accept bribes to be slower at changing bikes or wheels. In other sports, there are a lot of people acting against their own employer. It probably happens already.

        “Regarding FIFO, what happens in the event of a mass crash? Surely then riders would have to wait?”

        They already have too. Have you ever spent a day in a team car ? In case of a mass crash it makes a huge traffic jam and mechanics, without necessary knowing which rider is down, have to run 50meters or more with spare wheels in each hand and sometimes have to go back to the car to grab a specific bike. Sometimes they just wait for the jam to be reduced for the car to come back to the rider. It wouldn’t take much more time really, especially as there would be less vehicles involved.

        “‘many team cars with terrible drivers at the wheel’ – of late, it has been the neutral vehicles (including medical and photo-motos) that have been the problem – not team cars.”

        Not only. It was not the team car’s fault but Matt Brammeisers smashing himself into a team car at tour of Utah is one of the consequences of too many vehicles. At Tour of San Luis in Argentina some riders complained about some local teams drivers.

        “been there + Seen it has explained elsewhere how sticky bottles work. Me, I only see what’s on camera and what I see are riders getting a sticky bottle for under 5 seconds – it’s not a big deal. What happens back in the back going up an alp I don’t know.”

        The reality is there is a rule, and it is not striclty enforcable. Which is wrong. Some other sprinters have been accused of abusing of long sticky bottles in the climbs of the grand tour. After 3 weeks of racing it can make the difference about who is the most fresh rider in the Champs Elysées.

        • ‘someone stay inside the cargo area’ – is that legal? It isn’t in the UK, but I don’t know about other countries’ rules on seatbelts, etc.
          But bribery is much more likely to succeed on a ‘neutral’ than on a team worker.
          Crucially, in the present system, the leading riders have to wait less – because their team car can specifically sort them out first. That would not be the case if it was done FIFO.
          ‘It was not the team car’s fault but Matt Brammeisers smashing himself into a team car at tour of Utah is one of the consequences of too many vehicles.’ – that was entirely MB’s fault: he was going about 20kph too fast and if he hadn’t hit the car he’d have smashed into the trees behind it.
          ‘local teams drivers’ – yes, the WT team car drivers have much more experience.
          This isn’t about being resistant to change, it’s about being resistant to change that is not preferable. Hence, I’m always banging on about Cookson scheming to reduce the Vuelta to two weeks – and have written to ASO urging them to resist this (a drop in the ocean, but what else can I do? – – the more people who write to them, the better).

        • Even if it is legal, I suspect that a job which involves standing in the back of a van whilst it hurtles around twisting mountain roads or bounces along cobbles might be short of applicants.

          • Not to mention the safety issue of riders needing to navigate around and through a caravan of massive mercedes sprinter vans! There’s a reason for the 1.66m vehicle height rule for caravan cars.

            Clearly ‘Opinionsgalore’ has never seen the Mortirolo nor the Stelvio (or hundreds other) climbs of Europe in real life. The thought of riders needing to pass a caravan full of mercedes vans on those descents is frightening! Some turns so narrow and sharp the van would need to do a 3-point turn to get round…. like that’s going to keep the caravan tight, moving fluid and smooth — enabling riders to get back to the group ok?

            BTW. The reason for the 1.66m rule is to keep vehicles small enough that riders can potentially see over (and around them). A small wagon like a skoda – with all its windows – makes it pretty easy for the driver to see the riders – and drive more safely. And yes, riders can see enough through the racked bikes and wheels on the roof – not to mention they can see through the windows.

            I’ve driven both with riders at training camps. I find it very difficult to see riders around a large van (Mercedes Sprinter) – even if it has big windows.

            @jEvans, thanks for clarifying your point!

            I’m in favour of reducing cars in caravan. Gerard Vroomen – – had some interesting thoughts on how to do this. So far in this thread I’ve not seen any that seem ‘workable’. And I don’t feel suggestions that reduce pro racing in Europe to how ‘amateurs’ race around a 10 mi grid outside Phoenix is applicable to the Tour, Giro, Vuelta or a monument 1 day classic – not to mention just about any other day of racing on the European calendar.

          • I agree with JE and BnTh+Sit – changing the system for the sake of changing the system will create more problems than it solves. Getting rid of team cars in favour of 10 neutral service trucks would create more polemics than it solves. The current system is not perfect, but as in most parts of life, perfection is definitely not attainable! The current system is very good I think and should perhaps be tinkered with, but a complete overhaul doesn’t make sense at all.

            Opignon Libre – I agree, sticky bottles are a against the rules, but most would equate that rule to “rolling through a stop sign” – technically it is forbidden, but it barely makes a difference. If sticky bottles are the biggest issue cycling has right now (I’m not saying it is) then I think the sport has come a long way!

            J Evans – have you ever sent a letter via traditional mail to the ASO? Or, did you send your letter in french to the ASO? I’m interested because I’d like to send one too.

          • I find ir interesting that among all the opinions on how to get rid of team cars the obvious is being overlooked – riders need to be self-sufficient. Before you go nuts here, think of what is always rolled out to justify technology and industry “improvements” – the trope about products being sold to consumers/satisfying market demands, blah, blah.
            But no consumers that I know (except those who are on a vacation/tour with us) ride bikes with any sort of follow-car behind them. They can’t risk riding on tires that boast low rolling resistance but get punctured very easily or bikes that snap into pieces in a crash. There’s nobody to hand them bottles, gels, panini and the rest of it. Nobody on a radio telling them to shift to this gear or watch-out for that turn. They dress for the conditions and carry what they take off with them rather than hand it back to a gregario to deal with. So why does the sport allow cars and all that servicing, which also gives more opportunity for cheating? Could it be the draconian Henri Desranges was right all along? What would he think about the modern riders who have pretty much everything done for them besides pedaling the bike and wiping their a__?
            Don’t accuse me of being a Luddite and claim I’m advocating going back to the 1800’s – I throw this out there just to point out that perhaps the whole thing is being made much more complicated than it needs to be?

          • Larry T – good ideas, as soon as your touring company gets rid of follow-cars and makes your guests carry their own bags between towns I’ll support the peloton fixing their own flat tires!

          • @Larry T – I’m not against what you’re saying and 100% self sufficiency. Its true there could be a modern spin on it, while same time it definitely is putting cycling back to the way it was in the early 1900’s. It would just be a totally different sport than the one we have today… not a bad thing.

            The challenge with this is “how does it work and look?”. For sure the first thing we’d see is totally different racing from what we have now (riders with backpacks even?). We would see less riders making it to the finish of races. Probably less a concern in 1 day races, but a major issue I think in grand tours. Do we want that as fans?

            More importantly could the teams sustain themselves financially? If you’re a team paying a rider $200-300,000 a year (typical contract for a good climbing or classics domestique) do you want to see that guy’s chances of finishing races, being there at crunch and being able to support his team leader reduced by 15, 20, 25% because there is no longer technical team support? If you’re a sponsor, writing a check for $15-20M a year to be in the World Tour (aka Tour de France). Will you be as willing to do so if there’s that much risk in your star rider (who is paid $3M+ a year) even finishing the Tour?

            Do we do away with teams altogether maybe? Just have individuals racing – like the Tour was in the early 1900’s.

            Drastic change is hugely challenging within an established system with significant financial interests at stake. Is it even feasible?

            Like it or not the sport has gone through evolution, modernization, etc to the point its at today.

            And the fact we’re suggesting making these changes to avoid a type of ‘cheating’ that’s been grossly over-stated in this thread as having a significant impact on the outcome is… interesting.

            If you polled 200 current pro riders and asked them: “Where would prefer to be with 20km to go in MSR:”

            A. Halfway through the caravan on the Cirpressa, getting a 15 – 20 second tow from my team car
            B. At the front of the bunch, riding under my own power

            I can assure you, 100% will answer ‘B’. (Because their is so much more than just power output needed to get back on terms with the front of the race from that point on… in MSR, or any major classic. And no rider wants to be exposed to those risks)

            If you ran a fan poll that asked: “Would you prefer to see pro cycling races morph into events more similar to a ‘gravel-grinder’ race?”

            A. Yes
            B. No

            I have no idea what the result would be, but, it would be interesting to know more broadly what fans would find appealing. Like you’ve said, and I agree, its a totally different sport to the one we have now.

          • You must be confused DMC, first I was NOT advocating going back to the 1800’s and second the subject was bike RACING where the participants get PAID to compete.
            A cycling tour/vacation is a very different thing, though plenty of folks choose to carry their own stuff and skip the follow cars. More power to them. The average cyclist’ riding is certainly far more of the latter than the former, so the industry racing baloney about providing products for consumers needs is often just that – baloney.

          • Larry – I was just kidding. My suggestions about your business are of course ridiculous and were completely tongue in cheek. If one day I go on a tour with you or some other company, I’d for sure prefer not to carry my stuff!

            Regarding bicycle racing: In a way I completely agree with you. I think technology has way too big a role in our sport, and that races should be about racer A vs. racer B. In my ideal world, they’d be on an identical bike, and that identical bike would cost $700 to an end user. However, so many fans are huge technology-buffs, so it’ll never happen! In the meantime I’m going to keep using my 10-speed cassettes and avoid disc brakes like the plague!

          • @been there + Seen it: You are dismissing an idea by only considering half of the parameters. The main point is : fewer vehicules. No caravan, just 2 to 3 support vehicles maximum behind each big group. You are gapped by the peloton ? a neutral support van driving 1 to 3 minutes behind the peloton will give you enough food to stuff on your jersey, a can of sealant and new bottles so you can finish the race/stage then they leave you on your own. Simple.

            I can assure you that navigating around 3 mercedes sprinter is easier than navigating around 10 or 25 team cars. That 1m66 rule might be critical when riders have to follow and pass a lot of vehicles which are driven bumpers to bumpers. With fewer vehicles they could take only one lane on the largest roads. On smaller ones they could leave a lot more gap between each other so riders and take the time to warn riders when they can pass safely. In the descents riders could seat between two of these vehicule while keeping a safe distance. Even by leaving 15 to 50m between each vehicles, those neutral supports would still be available faster than a team car right now when navigating in the middle of the caravan.

            Your experience with driving a large van is true but what you drove hasn’t been equipped to be cyclist aware. The technology to add riders detection so the vans can be safer exist, it is just not sold on such vehicles but it does n0t mean custom cars/vans can’t be made for this purpose.

            And your cynical assumption couldn’t be fewer than the reality as I am a former elite rider and live in the middle of the alps.

          • DMC, like all British people I don’t speak a word of another language – so I e mailed them in English, assuming that they’ll probably have someone who does speak English.

            (Also, I wrote it in block capitals – because that’s how you speak to foreigners: loudly and in the Queen’s English.)

  53. opignonlibre – you still can’t have a person rattling around in the back of a van: it’s not just feasible. It’s not safe. And a lot of the time it would simply be impossible for them to stand up and do their job. (Not to mention all the other flaws already noted above.)

    As for the rest of what has been added this pm, I’m all for getting rid of powermeters, maybe radios, electronic everything, fancy bikes (including TT bikes) and all that, but I don’t want to see riders being without assistance, a la the old days.
    I always want to see the best rider win – and that would sometimes prevent that from happening.

    • J Evans: You can still put a folding seat with belt in that van cargo area. Riders never ask for food/drinks/gears in tricky/dangerous parts of the course, the operator would have to stand up only when asked for items.

      As for reducing events that would prevent the best riders to win, there is a simple idea to remove a huge majority of mechanicals : mandatory tires such as Schwalbe Marathon Plus or equivalent. Sure sponsors wouldn’t like it and riders would hate how they ride but flats would become a very rare sight. Others mechanical failures are so rare you can just put them asides, most of them are consequences of a crash and although sometimes there is no way to avoid it being the best rider includes staying on the bike better than other riders imho.

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