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LA ROCHE-SUR-FORON, France (VN) — No one knows exactly what happened at the top of the Col de la Loze on Wednesday during post-stage bike controls to force the departure of one of Jumbo-Visma’s leading sport directors.
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A few new details have emerged.
What is known is that heated words and insults were exchanged, and that was enough for the UCI jury to kick Dutch sport director Merijn Zeeman out of the Tour de France just days before Primoz Roglič is poised to win the Tour de France.
Jumbo-Visma released new comments Friday from Zeeman, who apologized for an outburst at the top of the decisive climb in the French Alps on Wednesday.
It was not revealed what Zeeman said, but it was strong enough language to see his forced departure. Sources said Zeeman insulted and chided UCI technicians as they performed the route post-stage bike checks.
“After this incident, I immediately apologized to the UCI commissioner concerned, who also accepted my apologies,” Zeeman said Friday. “I am devastated, but our yellow dream lives on.”
Zeeman, who is one of the lead sport directors for the Dutch powerhouse, will not be able to work from inside the team car for the closing stages of the Tour. He will, however, remain as part of the team entourage and travel with the team from stage to stage and to the hotels each evening.
Sport directors are often fined as part of the day’s post-stage jury report for a variety of infractions, but it rare to see a sport director ejected from the Tour.
The outburst is uncharacteristic for Zeeman, who is widely viewed inside the peloton as a hard-working, even-keeled sport director.
So what triggered the incident? A few new details have emerged.
Zeeman said that the UCI technicians damaged Roglič’s bike while disassembling the bottom bracket as part of routine post-stage checks of select bikes in its efforts to control “technological fraud.”
UCI officials confirmed that Roglič’s bike was examined during the post-stage examination, but denied the charged that the bike was damaged in the routine, post-stage bike inspection.
Both the UCI and Jumbo-Visma confirmed that no evidence of motorized aid or technological fraud was discovered.
Sources close to the race said that the UCI’s two-person technological fraud team told Zeeman they wanted to disassemble Roglič’s bike, and offered the opportunity for a Jumbo-Visma mechanic to do it. A team mechanic wasn’t immediately available at the highest summit finish of the 2020, and a licensed mechanic from the UCI started to disassemble the race’s leader bike. That’s when tempers flared.
“[Wednesday] I verbally misbehaved towards a UCI commissioner who wanted to do a bicycle check on the bike of our leader Primož Roglič,” Zeeman said. “I got angry because the commissioner wanted to independently disassemble the bike’s bracket. Primož’s bicycle was damaged during this disassembly. Despite this incident, I should have kept my cool and approached the UCI commissioner respectfully. I regret that I did not do this.”
Post-stage bike controls have been happening at the Tour for the past several years. When rumors emerged that motors were being used clandestinely in professional cycling, the UCI started to randomly X-ray frames at finish lines of stages.
In 2018, the UCI rolled out a portable X-ray machine that could be easily transported to the top of the most harrowing of mountaintop finishes.
Each day throughout the 2020 Tour, about seven bikes per day have been selected for X-ray exams. So far, no evidence of cheating has emerged.
Bikes are randomly selected, but typically it’s the stage-winner, leader’s jerseys, and main protagonists in the stage finale that are chosen.
The review process is coordinated and orderly. Bikes are tagged at the finish line, and rolled to the mobile unit by a UCI technician and usually someone from the team. The racer does not need to be there in person if they do not want to be.
The technicians then methodically check the bike utilizing a running checklist of key examination points, which includes an X-ray image of the frame.
Technicians have the right to physically disassemble any part of the bike during these checks.
Under UCI protocol, the technician team doing the inspections can disassemble bikes at their discretion. There is no set protocol or trigger points to prompt closer inspection, but VeloNews understands that disassembling bikes during after-stage controls is not common.
Zeeman evidently became upset with the technicians when they began to take apart Roglič’s bike, enough so to warrant his expulsion from the race. Teams are protective of their bikes, especially when the Tour leader still had one more important mountain stage to contest the next day.
Jumbo-Visma riders told journalists at the start of Friday’s stage they were told not to talk about the incident.