Cycling is cruel and strange sometimes. After 2000 kilometres and two weeks of racing hard on the bike, Eduardo Sepulveda (Bretagne Séché Environnement) has been sent home for getting the briefest of lifts in a team car on the road to Mende.
After his chain broke on the climb of the Sauveterre, 50 kilometres from the finish of stage 14, Sepulveda panicked. His own team car had stopped 200 metres further up the road, having initially missed him because rivals Ag2r-La Mondiale had stopped by the rider, thinking he needed a wheel change.
Not wanting to waste time (or cleats, presumably) running up a steep incline to them in his cycling shoes, he jumped in the car of his rivals and told them to floor it. “I’ve never seen it in 24 years of doing this. He opened the door, left his bike and went 'go go!' to get up to them,” Ag2r team manager Vincent Lavenu told Ouest France.
Of course, the commissaires, sticklers to the rulebook, saw it all unfold and disqualified the Argentine for not covering the whole course.
It’s such a shame because Sepulveda has been a mini revelation of the Tour. The man from Patagonia in Argentina - about as geographically far from Paris as it’s possible to get – was placed 19th overall, just behind all the big guns. Finishing so highly would have been a boon for Bretagne Séché team, probably the smallest in the race, who were given a wild card for this race.
The 24-year-old hasn’t had much luck in recent years. He was due to make his debut at last year’s race, only for a crash at the Tour of Bavaria to rule him out.
This bizarre incident recalls the Porte-Clarke wheel change incident in the Giro, a case of rival teams helping one another out through sportsmanship and feeling the consequences – in this case, severely.
“I made an error, and I knew it… I am devastated. I’d like to apologise to my team-mates, all the staff and partners of Bretagne-Séché Environnement,” Sepulveda said.
Rules are rules, and Sepulveda was foolish, but his punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Already behind the race, could he not have served a penalty for any time gained? The truth is that if a similar incident had happened to, say, a Team Sky rider, and not a man plying his trade for the minnows of the race, the hoo-ha would be far greater.
It’ll come as scant consolation, but we’re giving poor Eduardo the day’s Top Banana for recognition of his fight over the last fortnight. He’s gone from the Tour de France, but he may yet be rewarded for his showing with a WorldTour contract in the future.
Rouleur's Top Banana is awarded after every 2015 Tour de France stage. It goes to an unsung hero who has caught the eye or deserves recognition for his efforts, rather than necessarily the stage winner or the most attacking rider.