Vuelta Femenina: Controversy brewing over pee stop that saw Demi Vollering lose red jersey

SD Worx has accused other teams of capitalizing on a toilet break, while Movistar says the Dutch team messed up.

Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images

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A controversy has been brewing since Saturday’s stage 6 of the Vuelta Femenina over how Demi Vollering was distanced from the peloton and lost over a minute to Annemiek van Vleuten.

Vollering found herself in a chasing group behind the main peloton just over 30 kilometers into the 106km stage and never regained contact with the front of the race. The gap was close to two minutes at one stage, though she ultimately limited her losses to 1:04 plus the bonus seconds Van Vleuten got on the line.

Since the stage finished, there have been accusations thrown across the divide about just how the split occurred. It happened before live coverage started and it was initially thought that crosswinds had caused the peloton to divide, however, SD Worx said otherwise.

Also read: Realini pips Van Vleuten in photo finish, Van Vleuten in red

The drama began with SD Worx rider Niamh Fisher-Black responding to a tweet on social media accusing Movistar of capitalizing on Vollering and her teammates taking a toilet break. She described the move as “not sportsmanship” and finished off the message by saying “if you can’t beat em’, cheat em’.”

The tweet was quickly deleted by Fisher-Black, but SD Worx would later double down on the accusations. Perhaps in a slightly more diplomatic way than the U23 world champion.

“Right after our riders pulled over for a pee break, with a few more riders from other teams, Movistar, Jumbo Visma and Trek-Segafredo went into full ride. While the wind was not even really on the side. It was rather more of a headwind at that point,” sport director Anna van der Breggen said.

Following Fisher-Black’s tweet, Movistar team manager Sebastian Unzué took to social media to put in his own two cents’ worth. Unzué accused SD Worx of failing to do its homework and wrote that the effort on the front had been pre-planned on the team bus ahead of the stage.

Movistar is based in the Navarre region, just to the east of where the race was taking place Saturday, and Unzué said that local knowledge was key.

“We had a very clear plan this morning. We knew it was an unprotected area with a big bridge and with strong crosswind. We had Jurgen Roelandts in front of the race informing us of the wind conditions where we wanted to make the acceleration,” Unzué wrote. “We know this [sic] roads perfectly because we live close to the area and we’ve been racing here all our lives and we knew that some GC riders wouldn’t expect it so we went for it.

“They made a huge mistake stopping in the worst possible moment for a pee. We made the same mistake yesterday with Liane [Lippert] stopping for a pee just before a climb and she was caught up behind. We had to chase all day. But we accepted our mistake and didn’t complain about other teams accelerating when she was peeing. It’s racing.”

Vollering, who now has 1:11 to make up on the final climb to Lagos de Covadonga, thinks it’s convenient that the pre-planned moment also happened to be when she stopped for a comfort break.

The Dutch rider also complained about the use of a barrage — where the in-race vehicles pull over to the side of the road so riders cannot draft — following the incident. Fisher-Black had also suffered the same fate the day before after she crashed in the leading group and ultimately lost time in the GC.

“We really had a big gap,” Vollering said. “The entire team had to ride empty until the foot of the first climb to bring me back as close as possible. There I went full-on myself. It became a real catch-up race. When I got back into the ‘first’ group, there was already a leading group ahead.”

“That Annemiek van Vleuten claims it was the plan to accelerate there anyway makes sense. It’s all very coincidental though. They did everything they could to ride me out of the red jersey. This is top sport. I don’t expect to get anything as a gift, but if you want to do it this way… A shame. So, I’m really bummed. Yesterday, Niamh Fisher-Black lost time after a judges’ barrage. It’s already the second day in a row that we don’t have luck on our side in that.”

Whatever happened out on the road to Laredo, it sets up an exciting finale of the Vuelta Femenina.

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