Nils Eekhoff has said he will “never ever forget those best 15 minutes” when he was world champion, something the UCI can’t take away from him after the Dutchman was disqualified, thus losing the gold medal in the men’s U23 road race.
Eekhoff had been in a chase group over the closing kilometres into Harrogate, with Colombia’s Sergio Higuita doing the lion’s share of the work to swell the group of contenders for the stage win to seven as the riders went under the 1km banner.
Britain’s Tom Pidcock, looking to win gold on home roads, opened his sprint a touch early as other riders soon flew past his tired legs, with Eekhoff proving to have a faster finish that Italy’s Samuele Batistella and Switzerland’s Stefan Bissegger.
However, after the Dutchman had celebrated with his team, it was announced the jury were looking into the result. Following a lengthy review, Eekhoff was disqualified and Batistella climbed onto the podium to take the rainbow bands.
Late last night, Eekhoff released a statement, saying he disagreed with the UCI’s decision and will hold on to the memory of momentarily being world champion: “WORLD CHAMPION! That feeling…but it only lasted for 15 minutes. I’m proud of my performance and help from everybody around me working towards this race,” Eekhoff said.
“Although I suffered serious pain from a dislocated shoulder, the crash early in the race never stopped me from fighting for my ultimate goal. To hear they [the UCI] have DQed me, was and is a big shock.
“I understand the rules of cycling, but truly think this decision is inappropriate. What consistency means to the UCI is a question I want to find out. But for now, I will never ever forget those best 15 minutes of my life…I’ll be back!”
The race jury found that the 21-year-old had been drafting behind his team car following a crash where he needed his dislocated shoulder popped back in on the roadside.
Speaking after the race, the Dutch team’s general manager Thorwald Veneberg said: “I understand you can’t come back behind a car, but more riders have done that today. It would be better if you immediately decided with video footage that a rider should go. I also don’t know why that didn’t happen. Probably a decision has only been made after another team’s protest. That is hard to swallow. I don’t think it’s very sporting.”
The Sunweb rider was seen walking away from the finish in tears following the decision, as Batistella claimed the win. The Italian released his own statement this morning, apologising to Eekhoff but explaining that it is the UCI’s decision, not his own.
“What I should say…I was second on the finish line, but I was the strongest yesterday,” Batistella said. “I was alone against 25 riders, I made the biggest mistake of my life on the sprint and I finished second.
“I’m sorry Nils Eekhoff because you passed the finish line in first and it’s not my fault if the UCI took that decision. You are strong, maybe one day you can wear the rainbow jersey in the men’s elite category.”