Singha Infinite rider Peter Pouly was stripped of a third successive GC victory in Banyuwangi yesterday after race officials discovered the French-born resident of Chiang Rai had violated the UCI’s 6.8kg weight limit rule on the race’s final stage. But plenty of questions remain that may never be properly answered.
Image: Mokhriz Aziz
It’s a great irony that Peter Pouly’s third attempt at overall victory in his favourite UCI2.2 Asia Tour race began with a blatant breach of UCI regulations and ended with enforcement of them.
After sailing through the race’s first three stages with relative anonymity, Pouly began yesterday’s final stage placed 5th on GC, ten seconds behind race leader Benjamin Prades (Team UKYO). Few would have picked a rider other than Pouly to win overall from this position, and that’s exactly what happened.
On the slopes of the final hors categorie climb to Paltuding Ijen, the 38-year old Frenchman moved clear of a group containing Prades, Jai Crawford (Kinan Cycling Team), Suryadi Dadi (Terengganu Cycling Team) and others who were fighting against the oppressive humidity and 35°C temperature. Before he popped, only Suryadi was able to briefly latch onto Pouly’s wheel.
Pouly moved on alone and put several minutes into his rivals. There was no reason for him to look over his shoulder as he rode into the final 200m corridor lined with cheering spectators – some may even have read about how in 2015 Pouly named his newborn son ‘Ijen’ after the spectacular crater-pocked mountain he adored – because he knew he was more than two minutes clear of his nearest competitor.
That trailing rider was an angry Crawford who, between gasps for oxygen, was imploring veteran UCI commissaire Martin Bruin to ensure Pouly went nowhere until his bike was checked. Like others, Crawford had seen the single-chainring-equipped Infinite road bike floating around in the convoy in previous days and viewed it with suspicion.
Crawford was right to be concerned. The news of Pouly’s disqualification (and that of his Singha Infinite Cycling Team) came at 18:30 via the ITDBI Commissaire’s Communique, following a long period of silence in which the provisional results were not ratified:
UCI Regulations 12.1.040
a. Article 2.3 – use or presence of a bicycle that does not comply with article 1.3.010 (cf. art. 12.1.013bis)
Rider: disqualification; Team: disqualification
nbr. 1 POULY Peter UCI code FRA19770629 of SIC
nbr 2. FAST Konstantin UCI code RUS19760718 of SIC
nbr 3. MAGNAN Nicolas UCI code CAN19750613 of SIC
Manager TEO K. Y. Brandon of Team SINGHA INFINITE CYCLING TEAM
In what now appears to be a regrettable typo*, UCI article 12.0.013 (relating to technological fraud) was cited as the reason for Pouly’s disqualification, causing much confusion and speculation about the possibility that this was the first instance of a hidden motor being discovered in an Asia Tour race. A race representative later confirmed that regulation 12.0.019 (relating to the 6.8kg weight limit) was in fact the rule applied.
HOW IT WENT DOWN
About five minutes before the final stage got underway, Pouly and his two teammates rolled to the start line and began chatting to members of the Swiss Wellness team.
“Peter and his team pulled alongside us and started talking about my clinchers,” recalled Swiss Wellness rider Jesse Featonby, who, after a few minutes of discussion with Pouly, noticed a visible crack in the driveside seatstay of the Singha Infinite team leader’s bike.
“When I told Peter if he knew about it he looked incredibly shocked and pretty stressed as they were getting ready to count down. He and his team immediately clipped out and went back to the team car. It wasn’t until the end of the neutral zone that he came alongside me and thanked me for letting him know.”
The bike Pouly was now aboard was equipped with a 10-42 cassette, single 48T chainring and weighed 6.0^ kilograms. It had already been spotted by many riders in previous days atop the support car, but perhaps nobody believed it would see a minute of racing.
“It was clearly a very light bike,” says Crawford. “I talked to my team mates about it, but we didn’t say anything. Some other team directors saw it as well and let the commissaires know. We thought ‘that’s it, he won’t be so bold as to use that bike’. But then sure enough we rolled out in the neutral and I saw he had jumped off his regular bike onto that one.
“I rolled back to the commissaire to mention this and he said he would check it; but still in the back of my mind I knew that probably nothing would be done, because for years I’ve raced here against Iranians who just come and clean up races, you know, and anyone who understands cycling – or even people who have eyes and ears and can read – they know what’s going on. I wasn’t confident anything would be done.”
When the lead group reached the final climb, Pouly attacked and nobody could hang on to his wheel. Crawford immediately resigned himself to again being the bridesmaid.
“My teammates had positioned me at the front of the group,” explains the 32-year Aussie who, in a particularly cruel 2009 season, finished second in three stage races: Langkawi, Tour de Korea and Jelajah Malaysia. “I wasn’t on Peter’s wheel and when he attacked he was going extremely quick. Everyone looked at him and thought ‘that’s impossible’. Suryadi maybe lasted less than a minute on his wheel and then blew to pieces. I chased, but at my own pace. Some guys came with me, and stayed with me for a bit, then I left them as well.
“It ended up just being me chasing him and his time gap continued to grow all the way up the climb, while I was riding away from the guys behind me. I’m not the best climber in the world but on my day I’m pretty good on that sort of climb. I was moving pretty well, but he was producing some power that’s for sure.”
As Pouly rode away, Crawford was stewing; both from the heat and from anger. Within the final four kilometres of the race, he delivered a serve to the ear of commissaire Bruin.
“I was angry, especially in the last three or four kilometres of the climb, because I tried to communicate with the moto commissaire that they needed to get to him and take his bike immediately before they could do anything to it like add weights. Obviously you’re also in a lot of pain climbing a mountain like that and it’s very hot. Martin (Bruin) was on a motorbike and I think I may have gotten through to him when I was racing up the mountain full gas, yelling across to him to go and check number one’s bike. It might have sunk in that if this guy is so concerned, it might be worth actually checking.
“When I crossed the finish line, roughly two minutes after (Pouly) finished, I saw a commissaire and the first thing I said to them was ‘please check his bike’. I rolled up the road a little, grabbed a drink from my soigneur and sat down on the road – then I saw a commissaire get (Pouly’s) bike. To their credit, (the commissaires) were on it and they did what they needed to do.”
Even before Pouly’s disqualification was made official, the Singha Infinite rider posted a cryptic message to his Facebook page. The tone was proud, reflective and defiant. It also appeared to seek to legitimise a sudden change of bikes.
An hour following the official disqualification, Pouly published another post to Facebook:
“Today my bike was destroyed by 1 other team. I just realised this 1 minute before to start, I went to the car take another bike Infinite Pulse Team and of course I don’t have time to put it conform to the UCI rules. As well after 30k I noticed the stem of my bike was not lock and I need to go to the car for fix it.
“After the second guy cross the finish line, he immodestly came to ask me ‘where is your bike your bike have something inside’. Thanks you, make me so proud of myself man! To realize that the times that I spent for training is not wasted. LOL.
“All the team was disqualify because my bike was to light and only 1 chainring same as many bike especially the bike from the number 2 are to light as well. Cycling its folklore and fun.”
Pouly followed this up hours later with a third post, featuring a picture of the bike found to be in breach of UCI regulations. The picture was subsequently removed, but not before Cycling iQ had downloaded it.
When approached for his side of the story, Pouly first claimed via an exchange on Twitter that his was not the only bike in breach of the UCI regulations. In response to the question “how much did that bike weigh”, Pouly replied:
@CyclingiQ same as Crawford bike
— Peter Pouly (@peterpouly) May 14, 2016
@CyclingiQ same as Crawford bike
— Peter Pouly (@peterpouly) May 14, 2016
Pushed to give evidence of this, Pouly wrote in an email “Loic (Desriac) was racing for Kinan last year and the bike from Jai Crawford was too light – 6.2kg.”
“No, it’s not true,” responded Crawford, when informed of Pouly’s assertion.
Asked whether his bike had been weighed, Crawford replied “no my bike wasn’t weighed to my knowledge, but the commissaires are welcome to come and weigh it. It’s obviously the same as the photographs. I was using 50mm deep racing Fulcrums, which are a 1’400 gram wheelset, because my team only has one set of lighter climbing wheels and they were given to my Spanish teammate for the day. The bike that I raced yesterday would have been 7.2kg.”
Though he had already answered the question in an indirect way, Pouly continued to be evasive when asked to state whether or not he knew the actual weight of his bike. In an email Q&A with Cycling iQ on Sunday morning (a phone call wasn’t possible, apparently due to his phone not working in Indonesia) Pouly responded to the question indirectly again by saying “I don’t know, but UCI say 6.2kg.”
In some ways, such a response is acceptable. Many a pro cycling team mechanic has quipped that some riders care very little to know anything about the mechanical workings of their machines. But the truth is that Pouly knew his bike extremely well. In a March 2016 post called ‘My special last season’, Pouly wrote about the new race bike he built:
During my time off [CiQ: late 2015], I met regularly with my Manager (Tum Wisuth). We talked a lot about what was needed to be successful at Doi Inthanon – equipment, team, training etc. One of the most important factors was bike set-up. Last year, I used a 2 x 11 group-set (39 / 53t chain-rings with an 11 / 25t cassette), but this gave too much gear on the flat and not quite enough on the steep ramps. We decided that we needed to build a new bike with a very special gear set-up to suit this unique challenge.
The new bike was based around the Infinite Pulse Team carbon frame. The group-set was SRAM Red 1 x 11. Having just a single 48t chain-ring saved weight and its longer teeth allowed me to generate more torque through the drive-train. The 10 / 42t cassette (taken from SRAM’s mountain-bike range) delivered the full range needed for the fast flat lower sections as well as the steep ramps near the top. FSA provided the handle bar, stem and seat post, San Marco provided the saddle (Legera) and Look provided the pedals (KEO blade). Fully assembled, the bike weighed only 6.1 kilo!
The bike that Pouly alludes to in his post (below, left) was the same bike used at Banyuwangi Ijen (below, right).
FORCED TO CHOOSE?
Pouly claims his regular bike was checked by the Singha Infinite team mechanic on the morning of the last stage as the chainrings were being changed to compact ones. He alleges his bike “was broken between Saturday morning 7am to Saturday morning 8am, during the transfer from hotel to start. The organiser transported all the team bikes.”
If these events – the frame being damaged in the one hour that it was out of Pouly’s hands; the chance discovery of a crack minutes before the final stage; the fact a super light, purpose-built, climbing bike was the only replacement on hand – are to be taken at face value, then Pouly evidently had only two choices: continue the race, or withdraw – because he absolutely knew the spare bike was not UCI compliant.
In the end, he made the choice to break the rules in the hope he might get away with it. There were, after all, no weight checks performed whatsoever at this year’s Tour de Banyuwangi Ijen.
“Yes I know it (did not conform) to UCI weight, but again I have only two choices,” admitted Pouly in a follow-up email. “This bike was here in case we needed the frame or the handlebar or stem. I didn’t plan to use it. I took it because I wanted to compete, that’s all. I know it was wrong but I just wanna race.
“We train, my team worked 4 days for that. I won 2 times. My son, his name is Ijen. If you have side of humanity you will understand.”
To any reasonable person, it might seem a marvellous coincidence that Pouly’s regular bike broke and a 6.0kg bike was the only spare available on the very day when it was most needed. That a seasoned professional such as Pouly could not have foreseen to bring a UCI-compliant spare to Indonesia is at best a grave error of judgement and, at worst, a trait of someone who knows how to game a vulnerable system.
LIGHT BIKE, DARKER PAST?
Pro cyclists spend an inordinate amount of time in close proximity to one another, so it’s inevitable that gossip and character assessments pollinate rapidly within the peloton. In the same way that the words ‘Tabriz Petrochemical Team’ triggers reaction, so does the name Peter Pouly. But why the raised eyebrows?
Amongst the first page of results likely to populate if you search the name Peter Pouly online will be reference to his 12 month doping ban in 2002 when he was a national-level mountain biker in France. Pouly gave his version of events to the Vicious Cycle blog in 2013:
“In the final kilometers of an MTB race I got a bug in my eye (not a wasp). It burned but I was able to finish the last 2-3 km. It became very swollen it hurt me quite a lot. The firefighters injected me with CELESTENE.
The following weekend I was tested and the substance was still in my urine. The prescription that I gave them didn’t authorize me to race. I was initially covered by the Federation (FFC) and for nearly a year I continued to ride and do training camps with the French National Team in preparation for the Olympics (Athens, 2004). I spoke with the Federation openly about these tests and that I was riding although I had been notified that I was suspended.
Then I don’t really know what happened, but there was a leak to the press and the Federation (FFC) turned their back on me right away and sanctioned me for having ridden while I was suspended.”
Before writing this article, Cycling iQ contacted several former and current pro cyclists who have raced alongside Peter Pouly to find out why, anecdotally, he was such a controversial figure. All made reference to Pouly’s past on-record doping and virtually all believed this was only the tip of the iceberg.
Crawford, a veteran of the UCI Asia Tour scene, offered a scathing assessment that was typical of the sentiment shared by his peers.
“Why would you want to have a guy like that in the race?,” he asks. “He doesn’t deserve it. Everyone feels the same way. I’ve been congratulated by so many people, so many directors and riders, because everyone feels the same way. They all saw what he was doing and they know his history, so the right thing has been done.
“I don’t speak with him and I don’t speak with riders like him,” responds Crawford, when asked whether he had spoken to Pouly. “I only know what I’ve read and from speaking to other riders, but also from his appearance. You get to know what riders look like when they’re doing certain things and, yeah, to me he carries that appearance. It’s purely my own opinion, and I don’t have any evidence to say he’s doing anything. But I know cycling, I’ve been a cyclist for a long time and it’s an opinion a lot of others share.”
Like many others who weighed in on the debate about Pouly’s actions on social media over the weekend, Crawford could only make educated guesses about his performances.
Cycling iQ has since been contacted by a former team mate who has offered a first-hand account of his time in Pouly’s camp but, due to the serious allegations he makes, that story will have to wait.
Pouly is due to retire this year and no doubt he would have wanted, perhaps even expected, his pro cycling palmarès to be iced with a final ITDBI victory. Instead, he has said he might be back next year in a team car. Or perhaps he won’t. One thing is certain though – this won’t be the last time we hear the name Peter Pouly.
*Cycling iQ reached out to three UCI commissaires who were at ITDBI for comment, but has so far not received any response. To date, only a representative from the organiser has said regulation 1.3.019 was applied and not 1.3.010. This article will be updated if and when any information is received to the contrary.
^originally reported as 6.1kg, but later confirmed by commissaires as weighing 6.0kg
UPDATE 17.05.2016: Cycling iQ received an email response from ITDBI Chief Commissaire, Majid Nasseri, which said “I would clarify for you that just Pouly’s bike was not comply with article 1.3.019 so commissaires’ panel disqualified him regarding article 12.1.040.2.2.”
Cycling iQ also learned from a separate source that revised stage 4 results were published on Sunday evening but circulated only to team Directors and the UCI. A full copy of these revised results can be found here. In summary, only Pouly remained retrospectively disqualified, while Magnan and Fast were both reinstated.