Jumbo-Visma sports director Merijn Zeeman has issued a public apology over an incident with a UCI official which saw him kicked off the Tour de France.
The news of Zeeman’s sanction, which also includes a 2,000 CHF (£1698) fine, was revealed on Thursday night in the race jury’s report of stage 18, though the altercation took place at the end of stage 17 on Wednesday which finished at the top of the Col de la Loze.
Zeeman says he got angry when a UCI commissaire, who was checking bikes as part of the UCI’s protocol on technological fraud, wanted to dismantle the crankset on race leader Primož Roglič’s Bianchi bike. The team say the bike was then damaged while the check was being made and the crankset had to be replaced afterwards. Zeeman’s reaction to the incident saw him thrown off the race for “intimidation, name calling, improper behavior of a team member towards a UCI member.”
“Merijn Zeeman was present at the control of Primož Roglič’s bike after the 17th stage,” a statement from Jumbo-Visma read. “A discussion arose with the UCI employee in question when the crankset of the bike was dismounted. The bike was damaged and the crankset had to be replaced afterwards.
“The altercation that took place during that check gave the UCI a reason to sanction Merijn severely. Merijn made his apologies on the spot and, just like the team, regrets that the discussion became so heated.
“To be clear: the check showed that the bike of GC leader Roglič was in accordance with the regulations.”
Zeeman, 41, took to Twitter on Thursday night after the news had broken to apologise further and explain the incident. The Dutchman said he was expecting to be fined and banned from the ceremony zone for the incident, but was told along with the team on Thursday morning that he would receive a more severe punishment.
“Today I am banned from further participation in the Tour de France,” Zeeman wrote. “This morning we were informed that I would be fined and that I was no longer allowed to appear in the ceremony zone. Apparently this has changed.
“I did not behave verbally correctly yesterday to a UCI commissioner who wanted to check the bike of our leader Primož. I got angry because the commissioner wanted to independently disassemble the bracket from Primož’s bike.
“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 not doing this.
“After this incident, I immediately apologised to the UCI commissioner concerned, who also accepted my apologies. I am devastated, but our yellow dream lives on.”
Despite the incident, the team will be focused on helping Primož Roglič safely navigate his way through the remaining two stages before the final stage to Paris where he’ll be crowned winner of the 2020 Tour. The Slovenian holds 57 seconds over the next rider in the GC, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), with the 36.2km time trial on stage 20 the last real hurdle to overcome.
Zeeman meanwhile will remain in France to keep working with the team, but will have his race accreditation withdrawn and “will no longer perform official functions within the accredited areas of the race.”