Pello Bilbao was issued a warning by the UCI race jury last night, after the Basque rider was caught on camera punching a spectator who appeared to block his path while running alongside the breakaway on the Col de la Loze yesterday.
The Bahrain Victorious all-rounder, who is currently sitting in sixth place on GC at this year’s Tour, was part of a small chasing group with David Gaudu and Chris Harper – about a minute behind eventual stage winner Felix Gall – approaching the summit of the HC-rated mountain when a fan, trying to run on the road beside the riders, seemed to impede his progress.
Bilbao could then be clearly seen lashing out at the spectator, knocking the man’s hat from his head as he vented his frustration.
— NotiCiclismo ➡ 🇨🇵 #TDF2023 (@Noticiclismo1) July 19, 2023
Following the stage, Bilbao’s retaliatory swipe earned him a place on the UCI’s nightly list of race jury decisions, as he received a warning for “inappropriate behaviour (towards a spectator)”. The 33-year-old was served an “official notice”, but didn’t receive any kind of fine or further punishment for his actions.
His run-in with the fan wasn’t the Bahrain Victorious rider’s only pulse-quickening, surreal moment on the Col de la Loze. Just moments after the brief altercation, Bilbao, Gaudu, and Harper were forced to squeeze their way past a traffic jam after a motorbike – carrying former Tour yellow jersey and King of the Mountains-turned pundit Tommy Voeckler – stalled on a steep bend.
Voeckler and his moto pilot – whose impromptu stop on the road forced yellow jersey Jonas Vingegaard to briefly unclip – also appeared on the jury’s list, receiving a 500 Swiss Franc fine each and a one-day suspension from the Tour for their troubles.
But it’s the UCI’s decision to warn Bilbao for reprimanding a fan encroaching into the riders’ space that has caused something of a backlash on social media, with one fan describing the sanction as “outrageous”.
“That is not aggression – with his heart at 200 and at the limit of his strength, someone jumps into his path and breaks up his rhythm, Pello Bilbao acts correctly,” another Spanish viewer added. “The Tour covers up its poor organisation by admonishing the athlete. Respect the riders.”
The online defence of Bilbao, and the criticism of the fan’s actions, isn’t a surprise, coming as it does just days after a selfie-taking spectator struck Sepp Kuss with his arm, causing a massive pile-up in the peloton and injuring several riders.
Kuss’ Jumbo-Visma team have since threatened to press charges against the spectator, with sports director Arthur van Dongen claiming the team had suffered “enormously large” material damage and that they would “certainly try to recover the expenses from that person”.
“I think we owe that to the riders who were on the ground. Not only ours, but also those of other teams,” added team boss Richard Plugge. “It’s really nice that the public is standing by the side and cheering us on. We’re very happy with that, but just keep your distance. I think it’s very important that we send a strong signal for once.”
Earlier in this year’s Tour, Bora-Hansgrohe’s Jordi Meeus was struck on the shoulder by a fan leaning over the barriers to attempt to film a sprint finish on their phone, while TotalEnergies’ Steff Cras was forced to abandon the race a day later due to what he claimed was a crash caused by fans spilling onto the road.
Then, on stage 13, Lilian Calmejane was brought down by a homemade washing line of cycling tops, put together in tribute to French hero Raymond Poulidor and held together by two flimsy poles, which snapped and fell into his path.
Bilbao’s warning for striking the spectator, then, isn’t likely to remove too much gloss from what has been a very successful Tour. After an underwhelming start in his home region, the Basque rider took an emotional victory from the breakaway on stage 10, outsprinting Georg Zimmermann at the end of an anarchic day in the Massif Central.
Pello Bilbao judged the finale to perfection 💪
— Velon CC (@VelonCC) July 11, 2023
The 33-year-old Basque climber’s tactical nous not only netted him his long-awaited first ever win at the Tour – which he dedicated to Bahrain Victorious teammate and friend Gino Mäder, who died following a crash at last month’s Tour de Suisse – but also saw him vault up the GC, a position he has retained as the race approaches its finale in Paris on Sunday.
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.