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At the same time as the world watched the Tour Down Under unfold, the lower ranked (UCI 2.1) Tour de San Luis took place in Argentina. The race is beginning to attract some of the biggest names in the World Tour (arguably better than the Tour Down Under) but as Gregor Brown reports from Argentina, it’s still a long off from how a WorldTour race is run.
Punches, pushes and crashes… Not what the Tour de San Luis wants to hear about. Overnight, Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) brought the Argentine incidents to the attention of the world when he wrote about them on Twitter.
Team Buenos Aires Provincia: one rider punches Dehaes in sprint on St 3, and today their team car runs over Tyler Farrar in the convoy. #wtf
— Taylor Phinney (@taylorphinney) January 26, 2014
— Taylor Phinney (@taylorphinney) January 26, 2014
Phinney’s Tweets raised eyebrows but also questions. Cycling has dealt with these types of incidents before, but it seemed too bizarre to have them all occur in one week’s time in the same stage race. Stranger yet, why did teams write about them on Twitter instead of reporting them to race officials?
Down and dusted
Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) breathed cautiously. His ribs may be broken. Scrapes mark his left side.
“It’s not as bad as it looks. All the scrapes are pretty superficial,” Farrar said, shrugging off the damage. He explained that he could be worse off and that he feels “pretty lucky.”
It wasn’t the fall that bothered the redhead sprinter but how it happened. He dropped back in Saturday’s sixth stage to Mirador del Sol to take water bottles from the Garmin car with Sports Director Chan McRae. At that time, around 35 kilometres to race, the car for third division team Buenos Aires moved ahead.
“I guess the Buenos Aires director wanted to get by, and there wasn’t really room, so he just drove through me,” Farrar said. “No honking. All of a sudden, there’s this big silver blur. I felt him hit me and then I went down. I think I bounced off our car and went down on my left side. I’m pretty lucky that I didn’t go under either car.”
Hugo Perez, father of 2008 Madison Olympic Champion, Walter Perez, drove the Buenos Aires car. He was too emotional to speak Sunday morning in San Luis, base for the race as Adelaide is for the Tour Down Under. Martin Ferrari sat shotgun and spoke.
Ferrari explained that McRae swerved left as they were moving ahead. Perez, Ferrari said, tried to swerve left with him but could not make enough space for Farrar and clipped him with the car’s side mirror.
“Accidents happen,” Farrar said. “However, if he’d stopped and been outside of his car, apologising, that would be a different thing. I’d be a little less bitter about it. What kind of a person does that? I would’ve stopped the car to make sure I didn’t run over someone and kill them. But he must have had more pressing concerns.”
“We apologised to him. We are very sorry about it, hopefully he will accept our apologies,” Ferrari said. “I went to them one by one, from the mechanics to the assistants, to apologise for it because I feel guilty about it. I feel bad about it. Nobody wants to hurt or kill a rider.”
McRae said that the incident could be due to the inexperience of the third division teams. Along with the 12 WorldTour teams, national and third division teams raced. This year, Argentina fielded its national team and third division squads Buenos Aires and San Luis-Somos Todos.
“It’s inexperience,” McRae said. “You have kind of a mixture here. There’s a lot of diversity but then again you can also get that in the World Championships. Everyone needs his first time out at the high-level races. You treat them with respect but if they mess up then they are going to hear it.”
Farrar finished stage and the race the next day. The jury fined the Buenos Aires team 100 Swiss Francs. The incident was the only one that team officials reported to jury. The others reached the Twitter-sphere only.
A push ahead
Followers heard rumours that some team and support staff pushed the local riders up the climbs.
Phinney said, “It’s good that they have anti-doping in place but if you have guys hanging on to car windows going for third or fourth place, that’s going to give you a bigger boost than any drug.”
He referred to the stage to Alto El Amago. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) broke free on the climb and moved within striking distance. He took the overall the next day and won the race on Sunday. Something else was happening behind, however.
Sergio Godoy (Somos Todos) placed second at 50 seconds on El Amago. Darwin Atapuma (BMC Racing), Enzo Moyano (Somos Todos) and Lucas Euser (UnitedHealthcare) all finished around 1-30 minutes back.
“I dropped [Moyano] and then he came by me, coasting, uphill with his team car,” Euser said. “They put about 200 metres on me. I slowly brought them back, as I was about 50 metres behind, I watched a hand come out of the team car and push the rider. People are going to make bad choices in stressful situations, but when you boil it down, it’s sport. It’s competition. It’s supposed to be the strongest man wins, regardless of where you’re from or who you have around you.”
BMC Racing sports director, Jackson Stewart said that a press motorbike driver also pushed Moyano.
“I’ve not been to many South American races, I’ve only been to a race in Beijing and a race in Shanghai,” Stewart said. “Everywhere is different but this is just chaotic.”
Stewert told his story but did not complain to the race jury.
A punch and apology
Kenny Dehaes, a six-foot-two tall team Lotto-Belisol Belgian, can confirm the chaos. He wears it in the form of a black eye. However, given his size, one just assumes that he brawled in a bar, not the third stage in an early season race.
“It was the hottest day of the year, of my career, we were pulling and riding behind the Quick Step team,” Dehaes said. “I was sitting on Cavendish’s wheel. Walter Perez from team Buenos Aires came in pushing and everything on my right side.”
They still had 100 kilometres to cover to reach the finish. Dehaes said that the aggression was strange so far out and that he put his elbow out and with his hand pushed Perez away.
“I wanted him to give some respect,” Dehaes explained. “He responded, punching my eye. I didn’t know what happened because you normally don’t see that in a race.”
Perez said that Dehaes punched him as well. Either way, and though the black eye remains, they quickly forgot about the incident.
“Actually we were both dropped on the climb together the next day and we rode together to the finish,” Dehaes added. “The team gave me water and the fans were amazing, they help us all and push us all, poured water on our heads.”
Lower Ranked Teams Mixing it
The lower ranked a race is the more third division and national teams the organiser is able to invite. First division teams race the top races in the WorldTour calendar but also .HC and like the Tour de San Luis, .1 races. It gives them a chance to build up miles and collect wins.
The 2.1 and 1.1 races also allow amateurs, or third division and national team riders, to show themselves to a wider audience. Argentine Eduardo Sepulveda went well enough two years ago to receive an invitation to train at the UCI’s cycling centre in Switzerland. He now rides for French second division team, Bretagne.
“Sometimes when you go to smaller races, it is a new experience for the riders and the staff, it’s the next level,” Farrar said. “Accidents can always happen. Look at Grand Tours.”
Phinney added that the Tour de San Luis still tops the Tour Down Under. He said that the stress-level lowers when the race does not rank in the WorldTour. Asked about why he wrote on Twitter, he said that he wants that San Luis improve and that the local riders learn. He added that he did not speak to officials because the events did not affect him.
“I speak out about it because I want to see progress,” Phinney said. “When you have issues like this, the race is not going to move forward unless you address these little issues, which could become big issues.”
The same issues that Phinney wrote about also occur around the world. Nico Mattan won Gent-Wevelgem after a motorbike tow, Carlos Barredo attacked Rui Costa in the Tour de France and a press car drove Juan Antonio Flecha and Johnny Hoogerland off the road and into barbed wire. Besides the big stars, San Luis seems to have something else in common with the world’s top races.