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Kicked off the Tour de France: A history of controversial disqualifications

Joseph Delves
6 Jul 2017

Peter Sagan’s sending home is just the latest in a history of controversial Tour dismissals

Peter Sagan's 2017 Tour de France is over, in the process ending his chances of matching Erik Zabel's six successive green jersey wins.

It's fair to say not everyone agrees with the decision to disqualify the Slovak, but it's far from the first time the Tour officials have taken controversial decisions that have cost riders their place in the Tour peloton. Not that it'll make Sagan feel any better, of course...

Nearly everyone, 1904 Tour de France

Bikes, trains and automobiles

Cycling fans from the Lance Armstrong era are used to scanning down the original results list to locate the eventually winner of the Tour de France.

However, to find the victor at the race's second edition you have to look an impressive five places down the provisional standings. The 1904 race was beset by cheating, beatings and widespread sabotage.

Masked men attacked the leaders during the first stage. Nails and glass were repeatedly spread on the road. And a mob had to be dispersed by armed officials. None of these events resulted in the expulsion of any riders, though.

Instead, during the race nine cyclists were accused of having taken trains, or hitched lifts in cars. With the race almost canceled, a following investigation disqualified all the stage winners along with the first four finishers.

This left fifth-placed Henri Cornet, then aged 19, as the winner.

Michel Pollentier, 1978 Tour de France

Bag of pish 

Belgian National Champion Michel Pollentier came into the 1978 Tour de France having won the overall classification at the previous year’s Giro d'Italia.

Things were looking good for a similar achievement in France when a win on Alpe d'Huez put him into the yellow jersey at the end of Stage 16.

However, his stage win also singled him out for a dope test. Luckily Pollentier had come prepared, with a condom filled with someone else's fluids hidden under his racing jersey.

All was going well for the amphetamine-addled rider until a fellow testee started having problems with his own apparatus (he was similarly trying to dupe the officials by using someone else's urine).

The malfunction caused the rider's ruse to be discovered, and that prompted the suspicious officials to get Pollentier to raise his jersey too, revealing a similar system.

Both he and Pollentier were ejected, leaving Bernard Hinault to win the race.


Stephen Roche and Urs Zimmerman, 1991 Tour de France

Missed starts and fear of flying

As the clock ticked down to their appointed start time on Stage 2 of the 1991 Tour, a team time-trial, the TonTon Tapis team sat on the start line, with one of their number very conspicuously absent – team leader Stephen Roche.

A timing mix-up meant Roche was late getting to the start, by which time the rest of the team were already out on the road.

Roche rode the 36.5km course alone, but his late start pushed him outside the time limit, leading to his elimination. Roche appealed the decision, but the race commissaires were having none of it, and the 1987 Tour winner was on his way home. 

In the same year, former podium finisher Urs Zimmermann was also thrown off the race for refusing to board a plane. The race organisers had stipulated that the Tour circus make the transfer from Nantes to Pau between stages by plane, but Zimmermann – known to have a long-standing fear of flying – refused to board and got there by alternative means.

The unsympathetic race jury then disqualified him but threats of a boycott by other riders in support of the popular Swiss resulted in him being reinstated and Zimmermann finished the Tour 116th overall.


Mark Renshaw, 2010 Tour de France

Butt seriously

The normally calm and collected Mark Renshaw lost his head while working as a leadout man for Mark Cavendish during Stage 11 of the 2010 Tour.

Renshaw took exception to Tyler Farrar's own leadout man Julian Dean unnecessarily barging into him on the approach to the line.

Renshaw was sent home for his indiscretions, with race official Jean-Francois Pescheux quoted as saying: ‘His actions are plain for all to see. This is a bike race, not a gladiator's arena.’

At least Cavendish won the stage.


Eduardo Sepulveda, 2015 Tour de France

An expensive cab ride

Of all the riders listed here, Eduardo Sepulveda is perhaps the most blameless for his ejection from the Tour.

Sitting 19th in the general classification after 13 stages of the 2015 Tour, the hapless Argentine broke his chain on a climb during Stage 14. Despite Sepulveda riding for the little-known Bretagne-Séché Environnement team, the team car of fellow French squad Ag2r-La Mondiale kindly came to his aid.

With the bikeless Sepulveda sitting desolate in the back of AG2R-La Mondiale’s car, his own squad’s vehicle then arrived on the scene, parking 100m up the road.

The AG2R vehicle kindly drove Sepulveda up to his own team's car, where he was given a spare bike and sent on his way.

However, the race jury decided he'd completed part of the course not under his own power, and saw kicked him off the race that evening.

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