Frenchman Romain Bardet apologized after being kicked out of the Paris-Nice at the end of Sunday’s opening stage for hanging onto a team car.
One of the favorites, last year’s Tour de France runner-up had crashed in the final 25km of a frantic and enthralling stage animated by wind and rain, but he stooped to illegal means to try to catch the peloton by holding onto his team car.
“We made a mistake through a lack of lucidity at a key moment of the stage, taken hurriedly due to my crash, and the circumstances of a fantastic and animated stage. I’m deeply sorry,” a contrite Bardet, 26, said. “Nothing justifies the prolonged help of the support cars when fixing [a problem with the bike]. This practice, too often tacitly tolerated in the peloton, is now faced with safeguards that are necessary to guarantee the integrity of our sport.”
While Bardet was apologetic, his AG2R La Mondiale team manager Vincent Lavenu felt the punishment was “very severe” and insisted the rider was blameless.
“I want to clear Romain’s name because he doesn’t deserve a bad image given we know all about his integrity,” Lavenu said. “The punishment doesn’t fit at all with his state of mind, his philosophy — he is someone fundamentally respectful.”
Bardet was also fined 200 Swiss francs (US$198), while AG2R sports director Julien Jurdie was kicked off the race, along with the offending team car.
Frenchman Arnaud Demare of FDJ outsprinted compatriot Julian Alaphilippe of Quick-Step Floors to win the 148.5km stage of the week-long race, with Norway’s Alexander Kristoff of Team Katusha-Alpecin third at the finish line in the west Parisian suburbs.
Bardet was amongst a group of favorites including Australia’s Richie Porte of BMC Racing Team and Spain’s Alberto Contador of Trek-Segafredo to have been caught out by a split in the peloton caused by strong winds just 40km into the race.
They were forced to chase for more than 100km and eventually came in about a minute behind the winner.
“That was a crazy race. I really enjoyed the splits in the peloton,” Demare said. “I didn’t think a breakaway would form so soon... but there was the element of surprise. At the finish, everyone was spent.”
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