In a wide-ranging interview with Belgian media this week, UCI president David Lappartient responded to a number of questions, including those about the coronavirus, rider safety and EF Pro Cycling’s special Palace jerseys.
Perhaps the most pressing of those topics is the worsening of the COVID-19 crisis in Europe, and the corresponding worsening of the situation within cycling, with Paris-Roubaix having been cancelled, the Tour of Flanders going ahead on Sunday with various safety measures in place to try to combat the virus, the Giro d’Italia limping onwards – despite some teams having gone home and others calling for the race to now be halted – and the Vuelta a España set to start next week.
The Frenchman has already visited the Giro, and will now be on hand at the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, too.
“I want to visit the major cycling countries,” Lappartient said, according to Het Nieuwsblad on Wednesday. “Of course, I’d like have a Tour of Flanders with thousands of supporters on the roadside, but I’d rather have a race taking place than one that doesn’t go ahead. It’s very important to our sport that an event like the Ronde takes place, and I’d like to thank the Belgian authorities for allowing that.”
Paris-Roubaix – both the men’s edition and an inaugural women’s race – had been set to take place on October 25, but the COVID-19 situation in France has prevented that.
“I spoke about Roubaix with [Roubaix and Tour de France director] Christian Prudhomme,” said Lappartient. “Apparently, the prefecture of Le Nord could do nothing more. With the current number of infections – far above all threshold values – it just wasn’t possible to organise the races.
“But it’s not like the French authorities are anti-cycling, as we saw a lot of support for this year’s Tour de France,” he said.
Regarding the Giro continuing – and the Vuelta starting on Tuesday – Lappartient continued: “Cycling still has the situation under control: in the Tour there were four positive tests out of 2,800 tests carried out. At the Giro, there have been three riders who have tested positive for the coronavirus out of 176 starters.
“These are percentages that are much lower than in the rest of society: in France there are regions where 17 per cent of the tests are now positive,” he said.
“The efforts that cycling has been taking have been paying off. But we must not let go; the danger is still there. If we want the Vuelta to take place, we’ll have to make the protocols even stricter, as Spain has been hit even harder than Italy.”
With a number of riders having been injured this season in a spate of serious incidents at races – including Deceuninck-QuickStep’s Fabio Jakobsen and Remco Evenepoel at the Tour de Pologne and at Il Lombardia, respectively, Bora-Hansgrohe’s Max Schachmann, also at Il Lombardia, and Jumbo-Visma’s Steven Kruijswijk at the Critérium du Dauphiné, rider safety has become almost as big a talking point as the coronavirus.
“Let us start to approach it as a shared responsibility,” Lappartient said on the topic. “On Tuesday, we had three hours of meetings with all the parties involved: the UCI, the teams, the race organisers and, for the riders, Philippe Gilbert [Lotto Soudal] and Matteo Trentin [CCC Team], among others, present. They provided very valuable input. We’re making progress, and a new meeting is already planned for November 5.”
Two of the teams that had riders injured this year – Deceuninck-QuickStep and Jumbo-Visma – have called for pre-race safety checks of potential problem areas by independent parties, but Lappartient said that responsibility for making their races safe was likely to continue to remain with the race organisers.
“I don’t think that [proposal] is justified,” he said. “The organisers have rejected that. They said very clearly yesterday [Tuesday] that the legal responsibility for a race lies with them. I would be very surprised if an external company was willing to take over that liability.
“But, of course, we will call in the help of independent experts,” Lappartient said. “We are not against that. But there is little support for the proposal made by those teams.”
When EF Pro Cycling were fined for starting the Giro d’Italia in special, Rapha-made EF Procycling x Palace jerseys – a collaboration with skateboard and streetwear brand Palace – there were many who wondered whether the added publicity had always been part of the plan.
“They [EF] started the procedure for registration [of the design], but deliberately did not complete it,” Lappartient said, with that oversight punished by a total fine of 4,500 Swiss francs – CHF500 per rider, and the same amount for directeur sportif Fabrizio Guidi.
“It was all with the intention of getting more publicity for the jersey. Mario Cipollini did that, too,” the UCI president continued of the now-retired Italian sprinter with a penchant for turning up at various races in non-approved outfits and kits, normally to publicise a sponsor.
“He paid fines left, right and centre to come to races dressed as Julius Caesar. After that, everyone talked about it even more. Mission accomplished.
“We just applied the regulations. The fine had nothing to do with the design, which Mr Vaughters [EF team manager Jonathan Vaughters] knew very well,” said Lappartient.
Lappartient was also asked whether the investigation into what was in Remco Evenepoel’s back pocket – and removed by Deceuninck-QuickStep sports director Davide Bramati following the Belgian’s season-ending crash at Il Lombardia in August – was still ongoing.
Video footage of the incident showed Bramati taking out what looked like a small white bottle, which was later explained by team boss Patrick Lefevere as being a ‘finish bottle’, which he said riders sometimes have containing some energy drink or Coke to drink in the finale of a race, and was removed by Bramati before Evenepoel was put onto a stretcher.
“It is the CADF (Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation) that has been independently conducting that investigation,” said Lappartient. “All I know is that their work is done and that they will come back ‘soon’ with their findings. But I don’t know what ‘soon’ means.”
However, the UCI had also been investigating whether the item removed could have been some kind of data device to illegally transmit strategically important power data to the team car to gain a sporting advantage, and, at the time, Lappartient questioned a statement Bramati had given shortly after the crash, in which the Italian mentioned knowing beforehand that Evenepoel had crashed as his “data had stopped”.
“We have no problem with the public data that you can see on the [TV] screen,” Lappartient said this week. “That’s authorised by the UCI. But what we don’t want is for certain teams to take advantage because they can get data from their rider – certain physiological parameters – that other teams don’t have. That would allow them to anticipate certain situations in the race based on that data.
“In interviews, we sometimes read: ‘We saw from our rider’s data that…'” he said. “That’s bizarre, because the transmission of data is not allowed. Those kinds of statements have caught our attention.
“To be clear: Remco is a great champion and I wish him a successful recovery. This season he has won all the stage races he started at, and I look forward to seeing him again next season,” Lappartient said.