Mid-week mayhem at the men’s Brabantse Pijl

The Belgian semi-Classic had all the drama: cars hitting riders, riders shoving each other, and sprint relegations.

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It was a chaotic day’s racing at the men’s Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday. In wet and slippery conditions in southern Flanders, 19-year-old American Magnus Sheffield (Ineos Grenadiers) took advantage of his team’s numerical advantage in the lead group and soloed to the biggest win of his fledgling career.

But a largely unheralded teenager beating some of the world’s best riders was arguably the least of the day’s dramas. In fact, there were three separate incidents that made it a race to remember.

Evenepoel’s shove

With around 70 km to go in the 205 km race, Belgian wunderkind Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) came to the fore as part of an elite lead group. Keen to get on the wheel of Victor Campenaerts (Lotto Soudal) in front, Evenepoel reached over and simply shoved Ineos Grenadiers’ rising star Ben Turner out of the way.

Speaking on Eurosport after the incident, former pro turned commentator Adam Blythe was scathing of Evenepoel’s actions.

“What a spoiled brat”, Blythe said. “I’m glad the viewers are seeing this too. He has no respect for his fellow riders. Why is he pushing Turner like that? If you do this in a sprint, he will be disqualified. It’s the same action. Why isn’t he disqualified now? Keep your hands on the wheel. There is no reason to do this.”

Evenepoel was handed a warning by the race jury and later apologised to Turner.

Team car causes a crash

The drama wasn’t over for Quick-Step Alpa Vinyl.

At the start of the final lap in Overijse, with around 20 km to go, team cars belonging to Ineos Grenadiers and Quick-Step were trying to squeeze past the remnants of the peloton, and move up the road to the leaders.

The Ineos car got through fine. But as the Quick-Step car took its turn to sneak past, the peloton moved to the left, and a rider moved into the path of the car. The contact that followed sparked a chain reaction that left several riders on the ground.

Among those to fall was Quick-Step’s own Julian Alaphilippe who, while not seriously injured, did end up abandoning the race.

Quick-Step sports director Geert Van Bondt was fined 2,000 Swiss Francs for the incident. He spoke to Sporza about the incident afterwards.

“The leading group had a one-minute lead,” he said. “The [commissaires] had allowed Ineos to go to the front and we also received the green light to tell us that it was OK.

“We honked to warn the riders about the finish and it went pretty well, until one runner looked back and strayed a bit from his line. He hit our car and then …

“I can understand the rider saying we shouldn’t have been there. But we were authorized and if something happened to Remco who was in front, it was our responsibility.

“I’ve been in the car for 10 years and this is the first time something like this has happened.”

Sprint relegation

In the same spot a little while later, some 25 seconds after Sheffield had crossed the finish line solo, there was more chaos unfolding in the sprint for the podium places.

Former winner Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) led out the sprint from a group of eight, before veering across to the left of the road. That motion forced Benoît Cosnefroy (AG2R Citroën) and Evenepoel towards the roadside barriers.

Speaking to reporters post-race, Evenepoel was angry about Wellens’s trajectory.

“If you do this in a bunch sprint you get disqualified, so I hope they rewatch it because it was really dangerous,” he said. “If I don’t brake, I crash and a really hard crash. We will see what they do with it.”

The race jury ultimately decided to relegate Wellens from third to ninth. A circumspect Wellens said he felt he hadn’t sprinted in a dangerous manner, not least because it was a slow sprint.

And thus ended a chaotic, action-filled day at Brabantse Pijl. Paris-Roubaix awaits …

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