Yesterday’s Milan-San Remo was as chaotic, crash-happy, and dramatic as the first Monument of the cycling season should be. A landslide blocked the course and forced a redirect, Michael Matthews ate shit, poor debutante Fernando Gaviria fell at maybe the worst possible time, and Frenchman Arnaud Démare somehow won despite getting caught up in the same crash that bloodied Matthews at the foot of the race’s penultimate climb.
Démare thanked his teammates for getting him back up to the front of the race and keeping him toward the pointy end long enough to win the sprint. He said that he was ready to call it quits after he fell around 30 km from the finish, but was persuaded to go on. However, if the testimonies of several of his competitors are to be believed, he has his team car to thank for towing him up the Cipressa climb.
Matteo Tossatto, one of the most well-respected riders in the pro peloton, was livid after the race and told La Gazzetta dello Sport (It.) that he saw Démare get hauled back to the race by his team car.
“Demare was off the back before the Cipressa. Then on the climb he passed us going twice our speed. I didn’t see if he was on the car window or with a (sticky) bottle. Of course he was strong in the sprint but without that tow he would never have made it to contest the sprint. I’ve never seen a thing like that done so shamelessly.”
Eros Capecchi of Astana also went on record with the Italian paper saying that the French winner had cheated.
“Demare passed us at 80km/h on the climb. I’ve never seen anything like that before. I was on Tosatto’s wheel and saw it very clearly. Demare was hanging onto the right of the team car. It’s disgusting!”
TV cameras were focusing on other segments of the race, so there’s no video proof of what the two Italian riders are accusing Démare of, but there is a rather curious Strava file that shows Démare had the fastest time up the Cipressa ever by a few seconds. The file was deleted, but it reappeared this morning. He is very much not a climber, so the numbers are more suspicious than impressive.
The data shows that Démare went 4 kilometers per hour faster than the peloton over 10 minutes, which is a pretty significant bump. For their part, his team FDJ have denied that he cheated, telling Cyclingnews that they couldn’t have towed him because of traffic.
“We didn’t cheat,” [directeur sportif Frédéric] Guesdon told Cyclingnews. “I was with Arnaud on the way up the Cipressa but simply because he was in the convoy of cars after the crash. At one point he took a bidon from us, but I couldn’t have towed him at 80kph when I was in the queue of directeur sportifs’ cars on the climb. It was bumper to bumper.
“He just took a bidon, but like I said, there were cars all over the place, and riders all over the place, so it simply wouldn’t have been possible to give him a tow at 80kph like they’re claiming.”
At this point, there’s really no way to know what happened. The Italian press is probably eager to seize upon these allegations as incontrovertible proof since a Frenchman won their beloved Monument. FDJ could release Démare’s power data, and Guesdon has suggested that they might, while also accusing the Italians of being jealous.
“It’s a part of Italian races,” Guesdon said of the polemic over the legitimacy of Démare’s win. “Coming from two older riders, it’s very petty. But if there’s really a problem we can show Arnaud’s power data.”
Race officials probably aren’t going to go back and reassign Démare’s win elsewhere, especially since it would go to Englishman Ben Swift. 2014 Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali was kicked out of the Vuelta a Espana last year for getting an illegal tow.