Monday, February 26, 2024

World Road Championships – Controversy at the U23 Men Road Race as Nils Eeekhoff DQ’d


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Home favourite Thomas Pidcock’s head drops as he realises he doesn’t have ‘medal legs’; fourth place is of no use to a young man who’s already been champion of the world on three occasions. He wheels to a halt, there are commiserations from team-mates before he starts the forlorn pedal back to the bus. What none of us – including Pidcock – knew was that the ‘jury was out’ on big Dutchman, Nils Eeekhoff’s ‘victory.’

The 21 year-old Sunweb rider with, like Pidcock, a Junior Paris-Roubaix to his name, had been on the deck mid-race and had ‘drafted’ the Netherlands team car back to the shelter of the peloton.

Nils Eeekhoff
Photo©Ed Hood

The UCI podium guys appear and direct him out of the ‘warm down’ zone and over towards the podium; with all those hard kilometers in his legs and the disappointment of ‘blowing’, the only chance he’ll ever have to win a road world title on his home patch he remonstrates somewhat aggressively with the officials – he knows he only finished in fourth place and just wants to get back to the bus.

Generally, if a rider has crashed and gets, ‘a bit of help’ to get back then the commissars turn a blind eye.

And surely it would have been better to put the man out of his misery rather than believe he was World Champion then have it snatched away?

Nils Eeekhoff
Nils Eeekhoff spent more than two minutes behind his team car. Photo©UCI

But as ace photog John Pierce pointed out to me; 

“The Worlds is the only event the UCI actually own; and it’s a one day race, not a stage race. 

“In a stage race the ‘blind eye’ rule applies. 

“There were other riders who were left behind, and stayed behind because they were not paced back. 

“Also, how can you have a world champion who has been paced for some of the race? 

“As for the DQ coming after the event, a DQ during a race is not possible.”

The first two are fair points Mr. Pierce but you’re wrong on a DQ during the race, one gentleman we spoke to, who knows about these things, said that the commissaires had the power to DQ Nils Eeekhoff and pull his team car out of the race right there and then.

Nils Eeekhoff
The u23 Mens’ podium. Photo©

The Italians certainly didn’t share the ‘harsh’ view, with their man, Samuele Batistella, who was second in the sprint, taking the rainbow jersey from Stefan Bissegger of Switzerland and aforementioned local by Pidcock.

The Italian rides with Dimension Data’s continental team – bringing some much needed joy to the DD name – and is a product of the mighty Zalf u23 squadra in Italy.

This year he won the much sought after Giro delle Belvedere in Treviso along with a raft of other top placings in Italy.

Bissegger’s background is on the track, he’s a former Junior World Pursuit Champion; Swiss National Time Trial Champion and has had wins this year in races as diverse as the Tour of Wellington in New Zealand and Tour de l’Avenir.

Both riders of the highest stature, then.

The race started in Doncaster on a blowy morning in what we thought were conditions of the utmost secrecy, such was our difficulty in finding the start.

The field was assembling as we finally arrived and we sought out who we thought would the favourites.

Nils Eeekhoff
Photo©Ed Hood

Aussie and SEG Racing Academy graduate, Kaden Groves who’s now a Mitchelton Scott man won two stages in the prestigious Monts et Chateaux in Belgium as well as stages in the Circuit des Ardennes and Ronde de l’Isard – he would finish 14th on the day.

Nils Eeekhoff
Photo©Ed Hood

Whilst the USA’s Ian Garrison, who’s with Axel Merckx’s Hagens Berman Axeon squad was second in the u23 TT Worlds the other day and is obviously a man on form – 90th on the day must have been disappointing for the man.

Nils Eeekhoff
Team Hong Kong make final adjustments. Photo©Martin Williamson
Nils Eeekhoff
Stuart Balfour. Photo©Martin Williamson

Scotsman Stuart Balfour was looking cool, calm and collected before the start and would produce one of the rides of the day in support of Pidcock, ‘up the road’ for most of the day.

Nils Eeekhoff
Tom Pidcock. Photo©Martin Williamson
Nils Eeekhoff
Photo©Ed Hood

The big field rolled out bang on time at 14:00; brought forward 10 minutes – and with one lap of the Harrogate circuit shaved to avoid finishing in the dark.

Nils Eeekhoff
Connor Swift. Photo©Martin Williamson

Former British Elite Champion, Connor Swift (Team Arkea Samsic) was on hand to watch the start and was happy to chat; he’s happy with the French team and is looking forward to ‘new look’ Arkea Samsic with Quintana on board in 2020.

Nils Eeekhoff
Photo©Ed Hood

Harrogate and two laps of the urban circuit where the team cars sit cheek by jowl with beautiful old buildings.

Nils Eeekhoff
Martin with Brent Van Ballenbergh (r). Photo©Ed Hood

One of the first men we met on the circuit was our old chum, Belgian Six Day mechanic Brent Van Ballenbergh;

I am drunk, guys – one of our Belgian girls, Julie De Wilde was second this morning, so I had to celebrate!

Brent reckons that Remco is the ‘Joker’ on Sunday for the Elite race, he’ll go up the road with 100 kilometres to go to draw the other teams out on behalf of Messrs. Phil Gil and GVA.

We shall see.