Sir Dave Brailsford suggested Team Ineos may take their complaints over Luke Rowe’s expulsion from the Tour de France to the Court of Arbitration for Sport as the race continued without him on Thursday morning.
Rowe turned up at the team bus in Embrun prior to stage 18 to Valloire in the slight hope that commissaires may overturn their decision to throw both him and Jumbo-Visma’s Tony Martin off the race following an altercation between the pair during Wednesday’s stage 17.
Ineos team principal Brailsford suggested the team were prepared to wait as long as possible, saying the deadline for a decision was as late as it takes “to put your shoes on and ride through the neutralised zone” but in reality, there was little to no chance of success.
Instead, Rowe – who served as road captain to defending champion Geraint Thomas – left the start village in a team van as the peloton set off into the Alps.
Speaking before Rowe’s arrival, Brailsford said: “You appeal and they say yes or no. If they say no then you go to CAS. That’s the whole point of CAS as an arbitrator.”
Rowe and Martin were thrown off the Tour late on Wednesday night after commissaires reviewed footage which showed Martin apparently trying to ride Rowe off the road, while Rowe appeared to grab the German in response. The precise order of events was unclear.
The teams responded with a joint statement and a lengthy video interview including both riders, but as Peter Sagan learned two years ago when he was thrown off the race following a crash with Mark Cavendish, an appeal was all but certain to fail.
Team Ineos were still keen to make their point, however, with Brailsford saying he was more convinced than he had been on Wednesday night that the UCI had got it wrong.
“I’m not (convinced), even more so now having really looked at the rules and the incident, and spoken to both riders and to Richard (Plugge, Jumbo-Visma general manager), collectively everybody feels it was a harsh decision,” he said.
“There’s the spirit of the law and the application of the law and sometimes a bit of context wouldn’t go amiss.”
Rowe’s absence comes as a blow to Thomas’ hopes of defending his title in what is shaping up to be an intense battle for the yellow jersey in the next three days.
Thursday’s stage 18 promises to be a critical day as the main contenders look to shake off surprise leader Julian Alaphilippe, widely expected to fall away in the Alps.
Thomas sits in second place, 95 seconds behind Alaphilippe, but with only 39 seconds between the Welshman and Emanuel Buchmann down in sixth place.
Martin was a key team-mate of Steven Kruijswijk, who sits third, 12 seconds behind Thomas and just ahead of home favourite Thibaut Pinot.
Brailsford said that while the appeal had been ongoing in the morning, it was vital it did not become a distraction for the remaining riders, and Thomas indicated he never expected there to be any chance of success anyway.
“It’s not ideal but you’ve just got to deal with it now and move on, and take the day as it comes,” Thomas said.
“Obviously we’ll miss him but we’ve lost riders in past Tours as well. We’ll focus on the day ahead now.”
Asked if he expected Rowe’s appeal to succeed, Thomas said: “Not really, not with the UCI. It’s unfortunate for sure. We’re going to miss him, but it is what it is.”