Dutch rider Nile Eekhoff won the U-23 road race with a powerful sprint from a seven-man group, and he lasted as the champion for 20 whole minutes before he UCI announced he had been suspended. Why? Because Eekhoff had drafted behind his team car for more than 30 seconds and less than a minute very early on in the race. Riders are dinged all the time for generously using the free slipstreams of cars behind the peloton all the time, though an out-and-out DQ is much more rare, and it’s especially punitive given the circumstances that led Eekhoff to draft.
Eekhoff fell hard with over 124 kilometers left to the finish line, suffering a dislocated shoulder in the process. He cleaned himself off and battled back to the main group. This all took place before the race was remotely competitive.
He explained to reporters: “I crashed, got a dislocated shoulder, put it back, but also had a mechanical so it took longer, then I got back on, the car brought me back to the caravan, and at that moment I rode myself towards the peloton.” TV cameras picked up Eekhoff surfing his way back through the line of team cars before rejoining the peloton two minutes later, which, again, is standard procedure all around.
The UCI says they viewed footage that was not from TV cameras, was not made available until 20 minutes after the race when Eekhoff had already been celebrating, and which they will not release. It’s one thing to penalize a rider for drafting, yet it’s quite another to DQ him from a race he won fairly for making his battle back to the pack from an injury microscopically easier. This would be like kicking an NBA team out of the playoffs for an uncalled lane violation that took place during the second quarter of a regular season game in January.
Eekhoff was, obviously, devastated after the finish, and he later released a statement calling the decision inappropriate. Eekhoff’s agent confirmed that they will appeal and possibly pursue legal action to restore the rightful U-23 world champion to his earned place atop the podium.