N****r insults, bullying and monkey chants - Claims that racism is rife in cycling
Another hugely dramatic day at the Tour de France, during which race leader Tony Martin abandoned the race with a fractured collarbone following a multi-rider pile-up and defending champion Vincenzo Nibali allegedly threw a bottle at new race leader Chris Froome, whom he accused of having caused the fall, ended in a racism controversy.
It was claimed that an MTN Qhubeka rider was called a “f------ n-----” during Wednesday’s fourth stage of the Tour of Austria.
The South African team’s principal, Doug Ryder, claimed that the incident was far from a one-off, alleging further racist abuse and bullying from within the peloton towards his riders.
MTN Qhubeka, the first African team to compete at the Tour de France since the 1950s, had a bittersweet day. Their Eritrean rider Daniel Teklehaimanot made cycling history, becoming the first black African to wear a leader’s jersey at a grand tour when he claimed the polka dot jersey for best climber on Thursday's sixth stage from Abbeville to Le Havre.
But even as the team were wiping away tears of joy, they were simultaneously making representations to the UCI, cycling’s world governing body, to have Belarusian rider Branislau Samoilau, of Pro-Continental team CCC-Sprandi-Polkowice, thrown out of the Tour of Austria for alleged racial abuse of their Eritrean champion Natnael Berhane.
Samoilau is alleged to have called Berhane a “f------ n-----” during Wednesday's stage. It is understood that he has paid a month’s salary by way of apology to the Qhubeka charity, which aims to mobilise Africans by providing them with bikes.
The UCI was yet to provide an official statement on the incident, but a CCC spokesperson did not deny the allegations. “In the heat of the battle some words have been said by our rider, which were very unfortunate and unacceptable,” he said.
“We, as a team, do not tolerate that kind of behaviour and the rider will suffer consequences. Before the next stage the situation has been clarified between two teams and the riders, but we don’t want to get into details.”
Ryder claimed that his riders had regularly had to battle prejudice and bullying in professional cycling, with the team’s non-African signings such as Tyler Farrar and Edvald Boasson-Hagen having to step in on occasion.
“Yesterday one of the riders from another team said to Natnael Berhane ‘Get out of the way, you effing n-----’. Just outrageous,” Ryder said.
“And one of the biggest teams in the world last year in the Tour of Spain, when we trying to bring one of our riders to the front going into the mountains, said: ‘You guys don’t belong here, f--- off to the back of the bunch’. We have riders like Tyler and Edvald, riders who are well respected in the peloton, and they are their team-mates, and they say, ‘Hey guys, come on, these guys deserve to be here’.”
Ryder added: “We have had massive support from the major team owners and bosses. Guys like Shayne Bannan, Dave Brailsford, Viacheslav Ekimov. Those guys love this team. They believe they should be here. But some of the riders are struggling to grasp what we are doing here. They are in the minority, I’m glad to say.”
MTN riders were allegedly subject to monkey chants at another European race earlier this season.
Thursday's sixth stage of the Tour was actually was relatively quiet until the final moments when Martin’s crash triggered a dramatic chain of events. As his Etixx-QuickStep team-mate Zdenek Stybar streaked away for a solo win, Martin clipped a wheel about 900 metres from the finish, falling right into a Giant-Alpecin rider who in turn felled the defending champion Nibali [Astana].
In the ensuing melee, another of the big general classification contenders, Nairo Quintana [Movistar], was also brought down. Froome managed to avoid the pile-up, escaping with nothing more serious than a cut knee and a buckled wheel.
“There was a little bit of blood there, but nothing more than that,” he said. “I’m absolutely fine. I had to wait on the roadside as my rear wheel was buckled and I couldn’t ride on.”
It later emerged that, in a case of mistaken identity, Nibali had thrown a water bottle at the Kenya-born Briton, believing him to have caused the crash.
After the finish Froome rode past his own Team Sky bus and headed instead for the Astana bus where he spent around two minutes talking to the Italian. “We’ve cleared things up,” Nibali said. “We’re cyclists, not footballers.’
Martin required the support of three team-mates to remount his bike and cross the line in the yellow jersey, while cradling his left arm.
He left for hospital for almost immediately, saying he was still hopeful of continuing in the race despite the broken collarbone.
However, it was later confirmed that he was abandoning on medical advice. Earlier this week Fabian Cancellara [Trek] also crashed out of the Tour while wearing the yellow jersey.