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Monday, 21 March 2016

MILANO-SANREMO - THE DEMARE DEMARCATION

Demarcation is a dividing line. While it is also a pun on the rider's name, it highlights the thin line between glory and infamy.
As soon as the Frenchman crossed the line ahead of a marauding gang of sprinters, I punched a fist into the air to celebrate. A new rider was winning a classic, let alone a Monument, which is always a good thing for the sport. It's exciting to see young talent finally coming through the ranks, and Demare is an inspiring young man. I first noticed him at London 2012 when, soon after finishing, he stood right next to me at the 300-metre mark to watch the rest of the riders come through and soak up the atmosphere with his girlfriend. I didn't know at first who he was, but I noticed the world champion stripes in his shoes (he was reigning under-23 World champion).

Since then, I've followed him, and I have appreciated his talent even though he has lacked consistency in the big races.
Finally, the big one: Milan-Sanremo, La Classicissima, the longest race (this time even longer thanks to an untimely rockfall and consequent deviation via a stretch of motorway). Through the galloping pack, perhaps helped by the confusion of Gaviria's last minute crash, Demare pipped Swift to the line to take one the most prestigious wins in a sprinter's career.
Soon after the win, a couple of riders (some pointed out, Italian), accused Demare of taking a tow or rather, hanging onto their team car after a crash. Allegedly, this helped him get over the Cipressa (the penultimate climb of the race) and regain contact with an attacking peloton. The accusing riders were Capecchi of Astana and Tosatto of Tinkoff (apparently Bouhanni did as well, but I'm not including a rider who is not reliable at best).
Here lies the dilemma. Who and what to believe. I don't want to think the riders had an agenda. Both are veterans of the peloton and broadly respected in the peloton. However, Astana and Tinkoff are somewhat weak on ethics themselves. Some people have suggested it's because there are no Italians in Demare's team that the accusations come from Italian riders in an Italian race.
I don't agree that nationality is still a big deal in the peloton. There's barely one Italian team left, and the rest are scattered in a myriad of foreign outfits. No Italian rider has won Sanremo since Pozzato in 2006, and there have not been any complaints about 'foreign' riders winning it since, so why now?
Matters were made worse by a screenshot of Demare's Strava file suggesting he'd ridden up the Cipressa faster than the charging peloton (highly unlikely) and the subsequent disappearance of said file, to then reappear later, seemingly changed.
I don't like controversies in cycling; they don't enhance the sport, and they are tiring to follow. But I also don't want a rider who sought help to win a race. Holding onto cars, taking a tow, it's almost part of the ritual, but that changes when said rider goes on to win the race. That won't do.
Nibali was disqualified at the Vuelta and Sepulveda at the Tour for holding onto a car or getting a lift, but they were both caught on camera or by the commissaires. In this instance, lacking visual evidence, there is a case for looking at the GPS files of the rider and see if anything is amiss. FDJ should be proactive in this and show that it's all just a conspiracy and all is well.

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