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How SD Worx earned themselves a time penalty

Ricarda Bauernfeind took a great solo victory into Albi but most of the post-race talk was dominated by one topic. The time penalty that was given to Demi Vollering for overzealous drafting behind her team car after a puncture. It was also combined with the odd protocol breach and a dangerous manoeuvre. On a day when the team’s tactics were called into question after spurning an ideal chance for Lotte Kopecky to sprint, the drafting incident controlled the discourse.

How it started

At 64km to go, Demi Vollering raised her arm to call the team car up for a rear puncture. She initially takes the bottles out ready for a bike change but the team decide to replace the wheel rather than the bike. In the disc brake era, wheel changes aren’t quite as quick as they once were and so Demi Vollering loses some ground to the peloton in the process, roughly around 40 seconds. Whilst waiting for the wheel to be installed, two riders go past who are trying to move back up the convoy.

Demi Vollering obviously hasn’t moved but the front of the race has, with the ticker saying 63.6km as the Dutch rider gets back underway. She rides past a commissaire moto bike and then gets picked up by the team car with the ticker saying 63.4km now. That’s pretty much where the video below kicks in. Before then though, we see car and rider fly past Sandra Alonso who went past before and is moving back up without assistance. From there Demi is maybe 2 foot off the rear bumper of the team car and not having to pedal such is the draft.

As the team car approaches the convoy, protocol suggests that the rider is sent on without assistance to work up through the cars in the convoy. Normally all the cars are on the right so cars can move back up on the left but there is a slow-moving Coop-Hitec Products team car on the left trying to slot back into its place in the convoy and the cars behind on the right are backing up. Having accelerated up to the slow car and with Demi Vollering so close behind, the only option is to swerve onto the verge and shoot the gap.

Demi Vollering drafting part one

The speed barely goes down and they fly past Sigrid Ytterhus Haugset, presumably the rider the Coop-Hitec car has been looking after at 62.9km. It’s shortly after that we see the commissaire motor bike back on the scene. They begin to wave to stop the drafting and eventually come through and make it clear in no uncertain terms to stop the drafting. At the point of the screenshot below, Demi Vollering has come out and around the team car. The moto rider mimes writing on some paper and points at the driver again.

Demi Vollering drafting part two

From 62.5km to 61.6km, everything is done by the book. Demi Vollering moves up the cars but then gets caught in a gap between the red race director’s car and the last team car. A bottle comes out of the car, which naturally proves to be a sticky one and helps boost Demi Vollering’s speed. She has 2 bottles on her bike already, but she does take the bottle and stuffs it up her jersey and even extends an arm for another one. That would be too many extra bottles though, so we go back to drafting the team car again at 61.3km. That lasts for a couple of hundred metres before linking up with Christine Majerus who finally takes her back into the peloton.

The outcome and response

Post-race the results are very quickly amended to show that Demi Vollering has lost 20 seconds in the general classification. Moving her from 8 seconds ahead of Annemiek van Vleuten to 12 seconds behind. Generally, it’s considered a fair punishment by former riders, journalists and fans. The team itself doesn’t appear to be aware until Sporza finds Demi Vollering warming down on the rollers.

“Huh? Oh wow … Okay … That must have been when I had a puncture? I only hung behind the car a little bit? Then I immediately passed it. I wouldn’t know why. I don’t think I did anything wrong. I think this is very special. A moto? I haven’t seen it. I find it comical. I’ve had the feeling all year… It feels a little strange. But if they want to do it that way… I can’t do anything now. It’s a pity, but I don’t really know what to do with this. It’s very disappointing. I work hard to realise my dreams. When things like this happen, it’s not so much fun.”

Demi Vollering

“Ridiculous, of course. I reduced her to car 11 or 12. According to the regulations I then went behind her. That was clearly visible. Then 20 seconds is a very heavy penalty. The jury member came up with the message that I had to ride behind my rider, what he is right about and what I did. Nothing was reported to me before. At the finish, I hear that we have 20 seconds. This is a fight for seconds. If you lose 20 seconds because of something like that and the UCI supports that decision, then I wonder if those people are capable of leading such a race. Look at the men, it is quite normal there that they are brought back like this. There are no clear regulations either.

As chief commissioner at the UCI, you have to think about whether this can affect the classification. I hope they can look in the mirror with a satisfied face on Sunday and then not think: we screwed up the Tour with 5 seconds. There’s not much we can do about it. The worst thing is that you penalise an athlete. If they put me off course, I don’t care. But you penalise someone who doesn’t do anything about it. If we follow the rules so well, do it than everyone else. Can Team SD Worx  still appeal? “Official protest has been rejected. We can go even higher, but the small print says that the UCI is always right. One of the jury members spoke English, the rest were unable to do so. That says something about the level in such an important competition.”

Danny Stam, SD Worx team manager and driver of the team car

“This time penalty falls raw on us. I cycled at the highest level for a long time. It used to be allowed to come back behind the car after equipment failure or a flat tyre. The penalty makes it seem that we are doing something totally unheard of, while in reality, riders return behind the car every day. Not bringing your rider back after she was dropped herself is logical. B

ut everyone understands that a sport director tries to help their rider after bad luck. So that is why bringing back behind the car a rider who has been knocked back for that reason is usually tolerated. It is the first time I have experienced such a punishment. The moment the commissioner indicated we should stop, Demi rode from car to car herself back to the tail of the peloton. Therefore, for Demi, this punishment is unjustified.”

Anna van der Breggen, SD Worx director sportif