Blazin' Saddles: The biggest scandals in cycling in 2017
In the second part of our end-of-season retrospective series, we explore the stories that rocked the world of cycling over the past 12 months – including Peter Sagan's Tour KO, Gianni Moscon showing his true colours, Jan Bakelants' backfiring boasts, two Romain Bardet brushes with bidons, and the Giro's far from rousing rendition of Jerusalem.
Peter Sagan of Slovakia riding for Bora-Hansgrohe and Mark Cavendish of Great Britain riding for Team Dimension Data are involved in a crash near the finish line during stage four of the 2017 Le Tour de France.
So, sit back, put up your Sidi cycling shoes, pour yourself a Segafredo and let our cycling blogger Felix Lowe guide you through a loosely chronological sweep of the stories that had us fuming in the saddle, shouting at TV screens and ranting on social media.
With no Frenchman getting a tug on the Cipressa en route to victory in Milano-Sanremo this spring, it was left to Romain Bardet to be put on the naughty step after a sticky bidon of Arnaud Demare proportions in Paris-Nice.
Yes, the Race to the Sun was more a Case of a Shun for Bardet after the Paris-Nice jury disqualified him for receiving illegal assistance from his Ag2R-La Mondiale team car while chasing back on following a crash in the finale of the opening stage. Irony of ironies, the winner that day was none other than Demare.
Bardet disqualified in Paris-Nice after getting assistance from car
Moscon shows his true colours
In what would be far from Gianni Moscon's last brush with controversy, the young Italian caused an unsavoury stir bigger than anything you'd see in the Great British Bake Off tent when racially abusing Frenchman Kevin Reza during the Tour of Romandie. Team Sky banned the 23-year-old for six weeks despite Moscon's claims that "the accusations are not completely founded" and his later insistence that "my conscience is clean". The UCI took no further action.
Image credit: Getty Images
Giro goes down fast in our estimation
Whoever thought it was a good idea to offer a cash prize for the quickest rider on 10 timed descents of the 100th edition of the Giro d'Italia – one week after veteran Michele Scarponi was killed in a training accident and while a young American rider, Chad Young, lay in hospital after a high-speed downhill crash (he later died) – clearly needed a reality check. After all, this was the same race where Wouter Weylandt was killed only six years previously on a fast descent.
Sensibly, the Giro organisers cancelled the prize after mass protests by riders and fans on social media. But talk about shooting yourself in the foot.
Bardiani duo rumbled
Italians Nicola Ruffoni and Stefano Pirazzi were kicked off the Bardiani team on the eve of the Giro after testing positive for a growth hormone-releasing peptide – much to the chagrin of anyone who had picked the mercurial Pirazzi (the maglia azzurra in 2013 and a stage winner in 2014) as their fantasy climber in Velogames.
Italian Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani-CSF) celebrates his victory as he crosses the finish line of the 17th stage of the 97th Giro d'Italia, Tour of Italy, cycling race from Sarnonico to Vittorio Veneto on May 28, 2014 in Vittorio Veneto.
Image credit: Getty Images
Cue understandable anger from fellow Italian pro-continental outfits Nippo-Vini Fantini and Androni Giocattoli, who had been overlooked as wildcards for the race. Bardiani were given a reprieve and rode the Giro with two reserve riders – while Ruffoni and Pirazzi, who denied all wrongdoing, were subsequently fired after their B-samples came back more positive than an Oasis B-side.
The Bardiani duo were not the only semi-big-name riders ousted on the eve of a Grand Tour in 2017. Portugal's Andre Cardoso left the staunchly clean Cannondale team in the summer only to test positive for EPO a few months later in the colours of Trek-Segafredo just ahead of the Tour, while veteran Spaniard Samuel Sanchez was fired by BMC after being snared for growth hormones before what would have been his final Vuelta appearance. Ah, the old guard, eh?
Moreno sees red after spat with Rosa
Spaniard Javi Moreno did Bahrain Merida team-mate Vincenzo Nibali no favours by being kicked off the Giro in the opening week following a spat with Italy's Diego Rosa. While jostling for positions in a charged peloton, Italy's Rosa appeared to lightly thwack Moreno on the hip – prompting the Spaniard to pull back on Rosa's jersey and push him into fans on the side of the road. The race jury weren't best pleased and disqualified Moreno after stage 4.
Tensions flare as Javier Moreno lashes out at Diego Rosa
Police moto eclipses Sunweb and Sky riders
Removing Moreno from the peloton hardly made things any safer – as proved four days later when a stationary police motorcycle on the side of the road caused a mass pile-up as the peloton rampaged towards the foot of the final climb to Blockhaus.
The incident spelled the end for Sunweb's Wilco Kelderman and (effectively) Sky's Geraint Thomas, whose team-mate Mikel Landa's GC hopes also went up in smoke alongside those of Orica-Scott's Adam Yates. There was a significant fall-out, too, with Orica DS Matt White accusing Movistar of continuing their fast tempo afterwards as Nairo Quintana went on to win the stage.
Huge crash with motorbike leaves Team Sky hopes in tatters
Dumoulin dumped – but not out
When Tom Dumoulin needed to answer a sudden call of nature on the side of the road ahead of the Stelvio, his rivals for the maglia rosa sniffed out an opportunity and caused a right stink. While Quintana and Nibali accelerated alongside Ilnur Zakarin, Dumoulin did his business and rode back into contention to underline his number one credentials in Italy.
Leader Dumoulin stops for toilet break on side of road
Days later, Dumoulin reacted to his rivals' negative tactics by telling reporters:
They [Nibali and Quintana] are only focusing on me instead of trying to win. I really hope they will lose their podium spot in Milan – that would be really nice and I would be really happy.
To which Nibali replied: "There is karma – Dumoulin can pay on the road for what he said." Meow! Relations between the Dutchman and Quintana weren't much better, either.
Sagan elbowed off the Tour
The Tour was just four days old when ASO stressed that no one rider was bigger than the race by kicking off world champion Peter Sagan for his cameo role in Mark Cavendish's horror smash at the end of stage 4 in Vittel.
The world of cycling was divided as to whether the Slovakian showman deserved such a stringent punishment – with TV replays from alternative angles suggesting that Sagan's flick of the elbow was merely a reflex reaction to stay upright. Indeed, the plot thickened when it emerged that Frenchman Arnaud Demare – who went on to win the stage – may have been more at fault…
One thing was certain, Sagan's absence was a clear spanner in the works for Eurosport's special #AskSagan social media campaign…
Bakelants in sexism row
Belgium's Jan Bakelants found himself in hot water after making some ill-judged comments in an interview with Het Laatste Nieuws ahead of the Tour. Having already made a curious remark about calling up his parents during major races only "once I run out of porno movies," the married Ag2R-La Mondiale rider – when quizzed if it was difficult to go three weeks without sex – said that "there are always the podium hostesses".
Jan Bakelants pre Tour de France 2017
Image credit: Getty Images
If this wasn't enough, Bakelants later joked that he would take with him to the Tour "definitely a packet of condoms – you never know where those podium hostesses are hanging out".
The Belgian later apologised for his remarks, claiming they were taken out of context and were intended to be "humouristic". During the Tour, it was perhaps lucky that Bakelants fluffed his chances of standing alongside two podium girls following a failed attempt to break clear in Stage 5.
Aru's re-writes the unwritten rules
The debate over the unwritten rules overflowed from the Giro to the Tour when Italy's Fabio Aru attacked on the Mont du Chat just as race leader Chris Froome raised his hand to signal a mechanical issue. Like the case of Sagan, fans and riders were divided – with many pointing out that the race was clearly on while stressing Froome's propensity to suffer technical glitches on key moments of key stages…
Controversy as Aru and Quintana attack after Froome is forced to swap bike
It didn't end there: once Froome had re-entered the fray, he appeared to run his rival off the road in retribution. How very un-British. Froomey – that's really not cricket.
Bouhanni bashes Bauer
Perhaps keen to re-establish him status as the most divisive and dangerous sprinter following Sagan's expulsion, Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni showed off his boxing credentials by sparring with New Zealand's Jack Bauer during Stage 10.
Nacer Bouhanni lashes out at Quick-Step rider during Stage 10
Given the plight of Javi Moreno in the Giro, Bouhanni was probably lucky to stay in the race. Indeed, during the first week of the race, the Frenchman's erratic sprinting prompted FDJ's Jacopo Guarnieri to rant:
Bouhanni is an idiot. He didn't just pass me, he also put his knee into my bars. He's a d*ck – he's always making people crash. We know he's like that. He's probably upset with us because he always loses.
When quizzed about the incident, Bauer's Quick-Step team-mate Fabio Sabatini merely said: "I don't want to repeat Guarnieri's words – but he's right." Ouch.
ASO water bottle fiasco
When Rigoberto Uran and George Bennett were docked time for illegally taking on water in the final 10km of Stage 12 it seemed pretty harsh, especially considering the sweltering heat. But when it later emerged that French favourite Romain Bardet had done exactly the same thing – well, the race jury found itself in a bit of a quandary. Within minutes, oddly enough, the punishment was overturned.
Snubbed De Gendt's post-combat stress
Having made a huge call with Sagan and then bungled with Bardet and bidons, the race jury's bias was once again questioned when they awarded double stage winner and polka-dot jersey Warren Barguil the Prix Antargaz as the most combative rider of the 2018 Tour – overlooking the man who had ridden well over 1,000 kilometres in breaks.
While the Belgian received the public vote, his attacking verve was not deemed worthy enough by the jury – much to De Gendt's annoyance.
And De Gendt found himself an unlikely ally in former seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong, who in his daily Stages podcast had a right wobbly:
Are you f***ing kidding me? There's only one guy who's going to get the red number and that's Thomas De Gendt!
Marseille crowd boos Froome
Were there jeers in the partisan Stade Velodrome or does Froome's name simply sounds a lot like a boo? We may never know, but it was hardly a surprise that the soon-to-be-crowned four-time Tour champion was jeered when he almost caught home hope Bardet in front of the same crowd in the decisive ITT. Carlton Kirby certainly wasn't impressed.
'Disgraceful!' Froome booed entering stadium at end of time trial
Aqua Blue bus burned
When pro-continental team Aqua Blue Sport made their Grand Tour debut in the Vuelta everyone expected a baptism of fire. But the cowardly arson attack on their bus was beyond anything any of us could have imagined.
Thankfully for the Irish-registered team, no-one was hurt in the incident. What's more, fellow continental Spanish team LA Aluminios-Metalusa BlackJack stepped in to lend them their team bus in a fine show of solidarity.
Barguil's bubble busts in Spain
When Warren Barguil announced he would leave Team Sunweb for Breton minnows Fortuneo at the end of the season, tensions looked likely to flare up during a race in which the panache-fuelled Frenchman had been charged to ride in support of leader Wilco Kelderman. And after one too many disagreements over tactics, Barguil was kicked off the Vuelta in an amazing fall from grace from the double Tour stage winner.
Warren Barguil lors de la 13e étape du Tour 2017
Image credit: Getty Images
Heavy hand of the law
Still in the Vuelta, and the Spanish policemen showed their Italian and French counterparts how to deal with unruly spectators: by flinging them in front of a support vehicle, apparently…
TV or not TV, that is the question?
What happened to Julian Alaphilippe? Where did Vasil Kiryienka come from? Did Peter Sagan actually join the race after spending the previous five hours on the sidelines?
These are but three questions we'll never know the answer to after the TV cameras cut out during the World Championships men's road race final with four kilometres remaining just as Frenchman Alaphilippe looked destined to take gold.
In the end, it was a third rainbow jersey for Sagan in Bergen – making up for his Tour expulsion with consummate panache. Thankfully, the final 800m were televised.
Image credit: Getty Images
Moscon DQ'ed from Worlds
Misbehaving Moscon added another arrow to his quiver of infamy when – shortly after impressing with a staggeringly good Vuelta for Team Sky – the Italian contrived to get himself retrospectively disqualified from the Worlds for taking a tow from the Italian team car. Eat your heart out, Vincenzo.
'Naughty' Moscon takes tow from team car
Moscon – and on
And Moscon's villainous series of slip-ups continued in the Tre Valli Varesine race in September after he was accused of "dangerous behaviour" by a team-mate of the man he racially abused in the spring. FDJ's Sebastien Reichenbach claimed that Moscon "intentionally put me on the ground" as retribution for the Swiss rider's earlier comments about the Kevin Reza incident. Moscon denied any malice in the crash which saw Reichenbach suffer a fractured elbow and hip.
Team Sky's TUE abuse and Jiffy ruse
Sticking with Moscon's employers, and Sky – in particular their manager, David Brailsford – went through the mill during a year in which they were hounded by all and sundry. Despite Froome's Tour-Vuelta heroics and Michal Kwiatkowski's Milano-Sanremo triumph, all that some seemed to want to know about was the contents of a Jiffy bag delivered to Bradley Wiggins way back in 2012.
Now manager of China's indoor cycling squad, former Sky and British Cycling coach Shane Sutton – a man thought to be a keen blower of whistles in his time – continued to insist he had done nothing wrong despite accusations his coaching techniques involved bullying and misogyny and general unpleasantness.
Shane Sutton resigned as British Cycling technical director in April
Image credit: PA Sport
Sutton further endeared himself to conspiracy theorists and those who love a good rant by telling a BBC documentary that he regarded Sky's infamous TUEs as a legitimate way of finding "marginal gains" while staying within anti-doping rules.
Intriguingly, Wiggins – during a public Q&A in London in March – had slammed Sky's cult of marginal gains "a load of rubbish" while labelling former Team GB colleague Victoria Pendleton "a bit of a milkshake".
Colombia, are you CERA-ious?
And (almost) finally – although there's admittedly still another month in which the world of pro cycling could well easily be beset with multiple scandals – we go to Colombia, where it emerged that eight – EIGHT! – riders tested positive for the EPO variant known as CERA during the 2017 Vuelta a Colombia in August. Who said the dark ages were over?
Giro decides to Go West to Jerusalem
If the Giro's decision to kick its 2018 race off in Israel wasn't controversial enough, then things took a turn for the worse on the day that organisers RCS unveiled the route. By referring to the start town as West Jerusalem, RCS had apparently made "a breach of the agreements with the Israeli government" by making an unwitting reference to the region of East Jerusalem, which Palestinians believe to have been occupied illegally by Israel.
All of a sudden, RCS – on cloud nine following Froome's announcement that he would join the race for pink – were forced to make a public apology and remove all references to 'West Jerusalem' from its official maps and route info. An early taste of just how charged the Giro could well be next May. Froomey – are you sure you're really up for this political hot potato…?
Any scandal that we've missed? Join the debate below or tweet Felix Lowe: @saddleblaze.