Geraint Thomas’ hopes of defending his Tour de France title have suffered a blow after his road captain Luke Rowe was expelled from the race on Wednesday along with Jumbo-Visma’s Tony Martin.
Video footage showed Martin almost riding Rowe off the road late in the 200km stage from Pont du Gard to Gap, with Rowe appearing to grab the German. The order of events was unclear.
UCI commissaires took the decision to expel both riders and fine them 1000 Swiss francs (£812) after calling them to review the video footage after the stage.
The decision could have huge ramifications in the battle for the yellow jersey, with Rowe a key rider for defending champion Geraint Thomas and Martin a big part of Steven Kruijswijk’s team.
Thomas sits second overall, 95 seconds behind Julian Alaphilippe, with Kruijswijk in third, a further 12 seconds back.
An emotional Rowe reacted to the decision, saying: “To come here with this team, a bunch of good mates, I feel like I’ve let them down and of course let myself down.
“We were both trying to do a job. Maybe we both overstepped the mark slightly, but it feels harsh to be thrown off the race, both of us.
“Neither of us deserve that. There are a lot of people supporting you, watching you. It’s pretty hard.”
Ineos team principal Sir Dave Brailsford called the decision “severe”.
“They’ve made the decision to expel Tony and Luke from the race, which feels incredibly harsh if I’m honest.
“I’ve just had a watch of the clip. There’s no doubt about it, Tony cut up Luke a little bit, he’s kind of fought for his position a little bit.
“It’s nothing more than you see most days of the race. It’s a pretty harsh decision.
“I think a yellow card would have been merited but a red card, for both riders, in fact, feels a bit severe to me.”
Twelve months ago, what was Team Sky saw Gianni Moscon kicked off the Tour for punching rival rider Elie Gesbert on stage 15, but it did little to dent their dominance of the race.
Thomas is likely to feel the absence of his fellow Welshman more given their close friendship, although Rowe is not a climber and was expected to play a less pronounced role on the road in the decisive mountain stages to come.
But with the battle for yellow so close, this is still a significant setback for both Thomas and Kruijswijk, who were hoping to capitalise if Alaphilippe fades in the Alps, as is expected.
Matteo Trentin won Wednesday’s stage from the breakaway to give his Mitchelton-Scott team their fourth success of the Tour.