Luke Rowe and Geraint Thomas have spoken out about the Tour of Flanders crash which saw Bahrain Victorious' Filip Maciejuk disqualified as the UCI eyes further sanctions.
The Ineos Grenadiers duo, speaking on their Watts Occurring podcast, also addressed Team DSM's move to slow the race to a standstill on one of the climbs before explosively accelerating, saying the roadblock attack was "taking the piss" and "filthy tactics".
Rowe finished the race in 95th place, Jhonatan Narváez the team's best finisher in 25th, and recalled the horror of the high-speed crash as the peloton jostled for position ahead of the first ascent of the Oude Kwaremont.
"You know when you hear a crash?" he told Thomas. "Just the noise of carbon cracking, the noise just continued [through the bunch]. It was like a bus ran through the peloton."
— Dieter Vanthourenhout (@vanthourenhout) April 2, 2023
Despite the carnage, and the "big f****** mistake" of Maciejuk, Rowe admitted he "feels sorry" for the 23-year-old who was disqualified for causing the pile-up.
"He made a big mistake, he didn't do it on purpose," he said, explaining the scene of the crash, on the fast, wide pre-Kwaremont descent where the battle for position is fierce and riders jump up the outside of the road to gain a few places. Rowe admitted "rightly or wrongly, everyone does it".
"You shouldn't use it, but people do and then you squeeze back into the peloton. He came back into the peloton horizontally and probably caused 40,50 guys to crash. A lot of broken bones, but that's the funny thing about it — he managed to stay upright.
— Ronde van Vlaanderen (@RondeVlaanderen) April 2, 2023
"He made a massive mistake but I feel sorry for him. He is public enemy number one, maybe I shouldn't feel sorry for him because he caused a lot of people to break their bones.
"We were at dinner last night and Kurt Bogaerts [Ineos Grenadiers sports director] was there and he read an article from one of the big Belgian news [sites]... and I don't know what his name is but it said 'his name: the guy who ruined the Tour of Flanders'. Imagine that being you."
Thomas, on training camp at altitude in the Sierra Nevada, said he was at a mid-ride cafe stop when it happened, teammate Ben Swift showing the other riders on his phone... "Oh my god, that is insane," Thomas recalled saying. "I think Pavel [Sivakov] said he was in Paris-Nice with this same guy [Maciejuk] and he almost did the same thing, moving up on the grass and was everywhere.
"A few of the boys had prior experience of this manoeuvre that this guy has tried pulling off before so they were less sympathetic."
"He got disqualified," Rowe jumped in. "And they are talking about further repercussions, I don't know if that will turn into anything. I don't know the guy but put yourself in his shoes. I've made mistakes in my career, nothing quite as bad as that, but I just feel sorry for him a little bit."
"It would feel like he's the scapegoat," Thomas replied. "A lot of guys do a lot of things wrong, make a lot of mistakes, repeat those mistakes and nothing happens because it's not on camera or whatever, it would feel harsh if this one guy gets singled out. It would feel like he's taking a massive punishment when a lot of other people are doing things wrong. Whether that's a reason not to punish him, I don't know.
"It will teach him a lesson for sure, but there are still a lot of knobheads out there that are doing things that are just as bad."
"We want to set an example"
Further punishment for Maciejuk seems likely, UCI coordinator Peter Van Den Abeele telling Sporza "we want to set an example. His manoeuvre was absolutely [wrong]. You may never jeopardise the safety of fellow riders".
"Further measures can definitely follow," he continued. "He will appear before the disciplinary committee. A possible suspension and/or additional fine is then not excluded. This will not just pass."
Echoing the sentiment of Rowe and Thomas' assessment, Tim Wellens — one of the riders worst injured by the crash, suffering a broken collarbone and undergoing surgery on Sunday — said it "was not a smart move, but I think Maciejuk has already been punished enough on social media".
"I don't know the Pole from Bahrain Victorious personally, but I suppose he would have given his collarbone not to be the cause of this massive crash," Wellens said.
"I wasn't a fan of that — I think it's taking the piss a bit"
Thomas and Rowe also discussed Team DSM's extreme version of the 'go slow' tactic on the Kortekeer, slowing to a near-standstill at the head of the peloton before accelerating to try to catch riders out behind.
"I was on the front with Degenkolb and he was like 'shall we go slow on the climb?'" Rowe recalled. "Of course, for sure, I dropped back and it was three DSM and Connor [Swift] at the front. There's going slow on a climb and there's going slow on a climb.
"I was struggling to keep my forward momentum. I'm all up for taking it slow, you get time to recover, but this was too much.
— Emmanuelle Faure (@EmmanuelleFaure) April 2, 2023
"Trek did a similar thing the other day at Dwars door Vlaanderen and a lot of teams have done that over the years, but they were almost on the front track standing. I was on the radio and told Connor to just go, but he couldn't hear me because of the crowds. I was like, 'Connor, just go, this is stupid' but he said he didn't hear me.
"I wasn't a fan of that, I think it's taking the piss a bit."
Thomas agreed: "I saw it as are they playing a dirty trick? To actually screw over people here and make them stop, clip out and then t*** it to easily split the peloton because you're doing 50km/h and the guys are still stopped for another 20 seconds [...] It's filthy tactics. There's no place for that."
Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.