Barbara Malcotti (Human Powered Health) was disqualified for ‘irregular assistance’ after doing a bike change at the front of the peloton instead of at the rear during stage 5 at the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.
Devastated by the race official’s swift and decisive decision, the team’s director, former pro rider Andrew Bajadali said, “it was a harsh call.”
“It’s a call that, in my opinion, is very harsh from the commissaire. They could have fined us 500 to 1,000 francs, or given us a severe warning, and moved on from it,” Bajadali said in an interview following the stage in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges.
“It wasn’t an urgent situation, it was still 80 to 90km to go in the stage. There was a breakaway off, a completely safe situation from everyone. It was no advantage to Barbara at all – who got DQ’d. It’s difficult for us, and technically we were in the wrong but in the circumstance, it’s a harsh call.”
The fifth stage at the Tour de France Femmes took place on the roads between Bar-le-Duc and Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, and it was the longest stage of the event at 175.6km. A breakaway of four formed that included Malcotti’s teammate Antri Christoforou, Victoire Berteau (Cofidis) Emily Newsom (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB) and Anya Louw (AG Insurance-NXTG), that gained four minutes on the field.
During that stage 5 breakaway, Bajadali explained that Barbara Malcotti came over the radio to let the team know that she needed a bike change because her shifter was not functioning properly. At that time, the sole team car was servicing a feed for Christoforou up in the breakaway, and they decided the best course of action was to stop to give Malcotti a bike as the peloton passed.
“We were servicing Antri up in the break, it had three and a half, almost four minutes. Barbara got on the mic and said she needed a bike change, she had broken her shifter. We made the call to pull off and wait for the bunch,” Bajadali explained.
“We need to feed the rest of the riders in the bunch anyway, and we pulled over and [the mechanic] got her bike off [the roof]. Basically, the technical aspect of: [the rule] is that Barbara needed to be at the back of the bunch, and then stop or pull over and do the bike change.
“She did it from the bunch. We were clearly off to the side of the road. We gave her the bike change. She was at the rear of the bunch when she got on her bike and got back in. The technical aspect is that she did it from the front of the bunch instead of the back of the bunch.”
The specific UCI rule is 2.3.030, which states: Whatever the position of a rider in the race, he may receive such assistance and mechanical check (brakes for example) only to the rear of his bunch and when stationary. The greasing of chains from a moving vehicle shall be prohibited. In case of a fall, the implementation of this disposal is left to the commissaire’s discretion.
Bajadali said he tried to speak with the official to try and have it reversed, however, he said it was difficult to have a rational discussion at the side of the road, and that the decision was swift. “We pleaded but there is only so much you can do,” he said.
“It’s up to the discretion of the commissaire. I don’t know if he had something bad to eat, or whatever, but that’s what happened, and it’s very upsetting to us. Barbara is devastated and I feel absolutely horrible. I won’ t sleep tonight, for this poor girl, who’s got some good legs, the mountains are coming and this is her forte, and she can’t display what she came here for. It’s sad for everyone. We had a full team, we are racing well, we had Antri in the breakaway today, we are racing well, and to have this happen is upsetting.
“I’m not going to cuss at the commissaire and I kept it respectful but part of the job is being calm, cool-headed and in these circumstances you can lose your mind. You need to collect yourself and focus on what we do have going on.
“They were adamant that she get out of the race. They called her and told her to pull off to the side of the road. I wish in other circumstances we could have her keep riding and they would change their minds. No way, it’s crazy to me.”
Human Powered Health are one of 24 teams, 144 women competing at the rebirth of the Tour de France Femmes, a highlight for all of the teams involved in this historic event. Malcotti was expected to do well in the mountains but her Tour de France has suddenly come to an end there days to the finish line atop La Planche des Belles Filles on Sunday, based on a technicality.
“It’s bad for everyone involved. It doesn’t look good for the race, in my opinion, it doesn’t look good for us, or for anyone. Why is she DQ’d. It’s a really weird thing. It’s a weird call. We need to move on. It’s something that will always stay with me and I will never forget this. I think every DS and team and mechanic needs to know.”