Jumbo-Visma sports director Merijn Zeeman has been thrown off the Tour de France for “intimidating” and “insulting” a UCI official who was trying to check the bike of race leader Primoz Roglic following Wednesday’s Queen stage, it emerged on Thursday night.
In a dramatic development, with Roglic almost certainly days away from being crowned Tour champion in Paris, the race’s jury report following stage 18 revealed that Zeeman had been removed from the race for what it described as “intimidation, name calling, and improper behaviour of a team member towards a UCI member”.
In a statement released overnight on Thursday, Jumbo-Visma said they "regretted" the altercation but added that the official in question had "damaged" Roglic's bike, meaning they had to change the crankset.
Although the incident was logged after stage 18 from Merible to La Roche-Sur-Foron, it actually took place at a bike check following stage 17 of the race, the summit finish to the Col de la Loze won by Miguel Ángel López (Astana).
Under UCI article 8.2.2 Zeeman, who has been with Jumbo-Visma since 2012, was kicked off the race and fined 2,000 CHF (£1698) for the offence.
A statement released by cycling’s world governing body on Thursday night read: “The UCI Commissaires Panel has excluded Merijn Zeeman, Team Manager of the Jumbo-Visma team from the Tour de France for ‘intimidation, insults, improper behaviour of a team member towards a UCI member during the bike check carried out at the end of stage 17’, in accordance with article 8.2.2 of the UCI Regulations.
“The commissaires found that Mr. Zeeman behaved in an unacceptable manner towards the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) staff responsible for carrying out an X-ray control and then dismantling the Yellow Jersey bike at the finish of the stage at Col de la Loze in accordance with UCI regulations relating to the fight against technological fraud.
“As a result, Mr. Zeeman was excluded from the event and fined CHF 2,000. The UCI has made the fight against technological fraud one of its priorities to ensure the credibility of the results, and calls on all cycling families (riders, teams and organizers) to join forces to ensure the reputation of our sport.”
Roglic, who leads the Tour by 57sec from his fellow Slovenian Tadej Pogacar [UAE Team Emirates], is almost assured of victory in Paris on Sunday provided he does not crash in stage 19 on Friday - a flatter stage after successive days in the Alps - or in Saturday's individual time trial to La Planche des Belles Filles.
In a statement released overnight on Thursday, Jumbo-Visma said that the 41-year-old Zeeman would be allowed to remain on the race, "but during the remaining three stages he will no longer perform official functions within the accredited aeras of the race".
"Merijn Zeeman was present at the control of Primoz Roglic's bike after the 17th stage," the statement read. "A discussion arose with the UCI employee in question when the crankset of the bike was dismounted. The bike was damaged and the crankset had to be replaced afterwards.
"The altercation that took place during that check gave the UCI a reason to sanction Merijn severely. Merijn made his apologies on the spot and, just like the team, regrets that the discussion became so heated.
"To be clear: the check showed that the bike of GC leader Roglic was in accordance with the regulations."
In the same statement, Zeeman added: “I got upset when the commissioner dismounted the crankset from Primoz's bike. We stand for a fair sport and that includes checks, but that must be done in a reasonable way. Despite that, I should have kept myself cool and approached the UCI commissioner in a more respectful way.”