An Italian-style polemica erupted in the wake of Arnaud Démare’s unexpected victory in Saturday’s Milano-Sanremo.
Riders were pointing fingers at the FDJ rider, suggesting he took illegal tows from a team car after crashing near the base of the Cipressa on Saturday in the season’s first monument classic.
Démare was quick to react. On Sunday, he defended his performance, even releasing his Strava file that appeared to show he was not taking long tows off a team car. Speaking to L’Equipe, Démare said he did “nothing wrong.”
“There are referees. If I had done something wrong, I would have been disqualified,” Démare told the French sports daily. “At first, I thought everything was lost, but Frédéric Guesdon (sport director) reached me, and said Orica-GreenEdge could help us chase back. My teammates did a huge effort, and we came back at the foot of the Poggio. I thought I had wasted too much energy, but I had nothing to lose.”
Considered an outsider for Sanremo, Démare went down in a crash near the base of the decisive Cipressa climb. The crash also brought down Michael Matthews (Orica – GreenEdge), Geraint Thomas (Sky), and Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data), among others. However, the French rider quickly regained contact with the lead pack, a recovery that raised the eyebrows of more than a few in the peloton.
A handful of riders made strong accusations both Saturday and Sunday. Italian rider Eros Capecchi (Astana) told La Gazzetta dello Sport that he saw Démare came flying past them on the Cipressa while holding on to a team car.
“Démare passed us at 80kph on the climb,” Capecchi told La Gazzetta. “I’ve never seen anything like that before. I was on Tossato’s wheel, and saw it very clearly. Démare was hanging onto the team car. It’s disgusting.”
Matteo Tosatto (Tinkoff) also told La Gazzetta that he saw Démare surge past the chasing group on the Cipressa, a key climb in the final hour of racing in the 291km event.
“Démare was not there at the base of the Cipressa, but he passed us at double-speed. I couldn’t see if it was his water bottle or the window,” Tosatto told La Gazzetta. “For sure he would have made a strong sprint, but without this tow, he would have never returned to the front to make the sprint. I’ve never seen something so blatant. I wasn’t the only rider there, and I am sure others saw it as well.”
Despite the vocal reactions from inside the peloton, UCI officials said they did not see the alleged tow. And since no video has emerged to confirm the accusations, there is little the race jury can do.
Rules surrounding tows and “sticky bottles,” and the subsequent enforcement, are one of the gray areas inside the peloton. With blatant cases, riders can be penalized or even kicked out of the race, as Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) learned in last year’s Vuelta a España when he was captured on video taking a tow to the front group after getting caught up in a late-race crash. Race juries will sometimes turn a blind eye, especially if a crash or mishap happens relatively early in a race. Riders often accuse sprinters of taking tows — Simon Geschke (Giant – Alpecin) called out Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) of taking a tow at February’s Volta ao Algarve — so it’s certainly not a rarity.
What makes these accusations stand out is that it involves the first Frenchman to win a major monument in nearly 20 years. Démare’s victory is being hailed inside France, and he was on the front page of Sunday’s L’Equipe, and so far, there’s been little reaction from French media over the brewing hullabaloo.
On Sunday, speaking with Tutto Bici, Tossato suggested that FDJ could release Démare’s data from his power meter to disprove the allegations.
“Démare is certainly a big champion, and from my point of view, he could become a great classics rider, but what I saw yesterday, I didn’t like it at all,” Tosatto told Tutto Bici. “Considering the circumstances that the jury couldn’t do anything in the lack of proof, I propose two things: why not use the transponder that all of us riders have on our bikes to verify Démare’s climb on the Cipressa. All it would take would be check that data. Or, Démare [scheduled to race at the Volta a Catalunya on Monday] that he could release his data from his bike computer on his time to climb the Cipressa. I am sure it didn’t take long.”
Ex-pro and TV announcer Daniel Lloyd endorsed that idea on his Twitter feed, with former Sanremo winner Fabian Cancellara (Trek – Segafredo) chiming in: “I am agree,” followed by two emoticons.
Despite the controversy, Démare said his victory only bolsters his victory, and hinted he could pull the same double as John Degenkolb (Giant – Alpecin) in 2015, and now will take aim for Paris-Roubaix.