On Sunday in France, Elia Viviani won a bunch sprint to claim victory in the 43rd edition of Cholet – Pays de la Loire. This was Viviani’s first victory in Cofidis colors, who he joined at the start of the 2020 season.
Unfortunately, Viviani’s victory has been overshadowed by an incident that took place just behind him in the sprint.
With approximately 150 meters to go, Viviani launched his sprint. When he did so, Groupama – FDJ rider Jake Stewart was perfectly positioned on Viviani’s back wheel. Just to their right, Arkéa Samsic sprinter Nacer Bouhanni was still in the wheel of his leadout man, Thomas Boudat. With Boudat slowing down and Viviani accelerating on the left hand side of the road, Bouhanni decided to dive to the inside in an attempt to latch onto Viviani’s wheel.
In doing so, Bouhanni made aggressive contact with Stewart. This contact forced the 21-year-old into the safety barriers on the side of the road.
Luckily, Stewart was able to keep his bike upright and avoid a serious crash. However, the Coventry native did not emerge unscathed.
FDJ announced today on Twitter that Stewart will miss the Tour of Flanders on Sunday due to a fractured hand that he sustained in the incident with Bouhanni.
Jake Stewart is not able to take part in his 2nd Tour of Flanders on Sunday as he suffers from a fractured left hand due to the collision in the final sprint in Cholet-Pays de la Loire.
— Équipe Cycliste Groupama-FDJ (@GroupamaFDJ) March 30, 2021
Bouhanni was disqualified by the race jury on Sunday, but there has been further discussion around whether the Frenchman deserves a suspension for his actions. Let’s take a look at some of the variables at play in the debate.
Rules and Historical Precedent
UCI rule 2.3.036, titled “Sprints” states the following:
Riders shall be strictly forbidden to deviate from the lane they selected when launching
into the sprint and, in so doing, endangering others.
Bouhanni clearly deviated from his selected lane when he swerved significantly in search of Viviani’s wheel. However, the key point in this rule is endangerment. Bouhanni’s move could have been legal if he had traveled into unoccupied space. When he initiated contact with Stewart along the barriers, Bouhanni clearly endangered the British rider. Therefore, Bouhanni’s disqualification on the day is in line with UCI regulations and is entirely justified.
With regards to the UCI Disciplinary Committee, UCI rule 12.2.003 reads as follows:
The Disciplinary Commission shall determine the type and extent of disciplinary
measures, taking into account all the circumstances and in particular any aggravating or
It is at this point that the rules and regulations for disciplining riders becomes far more subjective. There is no clear guideline for what severity of offense is grounds for a suspension.
Ordinarily, looking at historical precedent in this situation would be a helpful exercise.
Unfortunately, as the Inner Ring points out on Twitter, the UCI is notoriously inconsistent and vague when it comes to these decisions.
Will Nacer Bouhanni get a ban for his sprint in Cholet? Actually it's impossible to know. When the UCI's Disciplinary Committee imposed the 9 month ban on Dylan Groenwegen last year there was no published "reasoned decision" so criteria for a ban and its length weren't explained
— the Inner Ring (@inrng) March 29, 2021
The incident involving Dylan Groenewegen at the 2020 Tour of Poland that the above tweet references saw Fabio Jakobsen forced into the barriers after a sprint deviation.
Despite the similarities, the result of the Groenewegen incident separates it from what occured between Bouhanni and Stewart. Following the crash, Jakobsen was placed in an induced coma and later stated he was just “glad to be alive.”
UCI’s Decision Making
If the UCI wants to protect their riders and reduce the number of incidents like this one in sprint finishes, suspending Bouhanni would be the correct decision.
It is not up to outside observers to decide whether Bouhanni intended to make contact with Stewart. However, the fact of the matter is that riders are responsible for actions that endanger competitors, regardless of intent.
With that being said, there are a number of mitigating factors that the Disciplinary Committee may or may not take into account. Many of these factors are completely out of the control of riders like Bouhanni or Groenewegen.
If the finish of Cholet – Pays de la Loire had been downhill as it was in the Tour of Poland stage, chances are that Stewart would have crashed into the barriers rather than just making contact with them.
Similarly, if the safety barriers at the Tour of Poland were more solidly constructed, Jakobsen’s crash may have been less dangerous.
These factors drastically impact how these incidents unfold. The riders themselves have no control over them, yet they seem to be taken into account by the Disciplinary Committee.
For example, Groenewegen likely would not have been suspended for nine months if the safety barriers in Poland did their job and Jakobsen walked away with a fractured hand.
Incidents like these are very difficult to rule on because there are so many factors at play. Additionally, there is often a great deal of confusion around the decision making process.
Riders like Groenewegen and Bouhanni do need to be held accountable when their actions place their fellow riders in danger.
At the same time, it would be helpful if the UCI was more transparent about their decision making. That way, fans and riders alike could know what to expect when this process is put into place.
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