UCI commissaires have expressed their frustration at riders avoiding the cobbles by riding on cycle paths and pavements on the opening weekend of the cobbled Classics in Belgium.
In a practice that has becoming an increasing source of controversy in recent years, riders in both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne were shown on television footage using smooth cycle paths next to the cobbled sectors, with the large numbers of riders breaking the rules in this way proving a frustration to race officials.
“It makes me really mad,” Jacky Botton, the chair of the race jury at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, told Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, which is a sponsor of both races.
“My personal opinion is that these UCI rules are simply not applicable in Belgium. What can you do? Disqualify them all? That is impossible without a video referee. And even with a video referee I wouldn’t see everyone.
“In the local circuit [around Kuurne] there were two crashes because the riders wanted to [use the pavement to] take a shortcut. I told the organisers that they should prevent this in the future [using barriers].”
The issue was particularly noticeable on the Varent section of cobbles with 66km to go in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, where the whole of the breakaway group and the majority of the riders in the peloton took to the hard-packed gravel cycle path on the right-hand side of the road rather than riding on the cobbles.
Thankfully there were few spectators on this path, although some riders did come close to crashing into a Team Sky car which had parked on the cycle path.
According to UCI regulations the “Use of sidewalks/pavements, paths or cycle paths that do not form part of the course” can be punished with a 200CHF fine and/or disqualification from the race.
The issue was also the subject of debate last year, when riders complained about Greg Van Avermaet, Peter Sagan, and Sep Vanmarcke riding on cycle paths and pavements as they rode away from the peloton to contest victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
At the time race commissaires suggested that the trio could be fined for their actions, although it is unclear whether this punishment was ever implemented.