A UCI commissaire says he understands criticism of riders not using cobbled sections along the Classic course

25 February 2017, 72nd Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Peloton at Muur, Photo : Yuzuru SUNADA

The top-three at the 2017 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac), could all face fines for riding on pavements instead of cobbled sectors during the race, says a UCI commissaire.

Commissaire Guy Dobbelaere was speaking to Sporza when he suggested those riders “could still get a fine” for breaking regulations, which say that riders are not permitted to use bike paths or footpaths instead of the course’s surface of cobblestones.

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The trio, who broke away in the final 60km of the race and finished the race together with Van Avermaet taking victory, avoided punishment immediately after the race.

A number of riders and spectators have called them out on using pavements instead of riding on the cobbles, something which has become common practice over the years as riders try to save energy and keep their speed over a smoother surface.

Trek-Segafredo’s Edward Theuns was one rider who complained about the use of paths, posting a screenshot on his Twitter feed on Saturday of the leader’s doing just that.

But Dobbelaere has said that those riders could still face punishment, however saying that to disqualify them for the infringement would have been “too much” and that they were clearly the strongest riders in the race.

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“The regulations say that riders can be fined if they ride on a separate bike path,” Dobbelaere said.

“A report has certainly been prepared, which has been sent to the UCI, who now decides whether it will or will not go to the disciplinary committee. That could still get a fine. The names of the riders are not important, it’s the principle.”

“Everyone must admit that the strongest three in the race were also the first three in the results. To take those riders out for something like that would have perhaps been too much.”

He also added that the case could have been different if the pavements they had used were full of spectators, which could have endangered those on the roadside, however crowds were fairly sparse along the route. Riders tend to stick to the cobbles in bigger races like Tour of Flanders, where huge crowds and fencing stop them from using the roadside.

Some riders in the chasing group behind at Het Nieuwsblad protested that they were forced onto the cobbles by commissaires, raising complaints that they leaders had been given an unfair advantage.

Dobbelaere sad he understood the criticism, and admitted that the rule was a “grey area” for the UCI, which has struggled to enforce the rules.

“I can certainly understand the criticism. Either it’s either everyone can do it, or nobody,” he added. “The pursuers had the misfortune that a commissaire was nearby.

“It’s a bit of a grey area. What is a footpath? When do we consider a bike path next to the road as a separate bike path? In Flanders there are perhaps hundreds of different types of paths: separated by trees, with a hedge, slightly higher than the road, or just separated by a dotted line.”