There were dramatic scenes at the Izu Velodrome during the second day of track cycling at Tokyo 2020, with Great Britain calling for Denmark to be disqualified before the teams raced in the men’s pursuit and then blasting the sport’s governing body for inconsistency over the rules.
Britain were among several nations to protest against Denmark’s use of shin tape and undergarments during qualifying on Monday.
The petition was unsuccessful and tensions then boiled over when a Danish rider, Frederik Madsen, crashed into the wheel of Britain’s Charlie Tanfield in a crunch team pursuit heat.
After almost an hour of confusion at the velodrome it was announced that Denmark would proceed to Wednesday’s gold medal race while Great Britain were relegated to the race between seventh and eighth, ceding the Olympic pursuit title they have held since 2008.
“I’ve got a lot of carbon fibre shrapnel and an injured rider and not a lot to show for it,” said the aggrieved British coach, Iain Dyer.
Madsen, for his part, said he had not realised Tanfield was so close. “It’s awful for this to happen in an Olympic semi-final,” he said. “There are just so many emotions running through me and them. I just hope Charlie is okay.”
The Danish coach, Morten Bennekou, later suggested that race officials were required to flag that an opponent had dropped from their team, as Tanfield had, and failed to do so. “There is a rule that, when another team is split, they should flag I think at three or four places in the circuit,” he said. “So that the other team is aware that [they] can race to meet only one rider somewhere, which they didn’t do. Our rider who is always doing the last kilometre [Madsen] always just looks down – he is just following the line.”
Madsen was seen venting his frustration after the crash but denied he had been directing his anger at Tanfield. “I’m not saying things at Charlie – I’m basically just shouting because I’m frustrated, not at Charlie but at the situation. I’m not at the Olympics to run into someone and crash.”
While the governing body, the UCI, has yet to issue a statement, the Guardian understands that the Danish team were deemed to have won the race on the basis that they had caught the British team (and hence won the heat).
But the crash meant that the British team were unable to race for a time that might have seen them progress to the bronze medal race.
Meeting with race officials after the crash, Dyer said he raised a precedent from a recent UCI World Cup where a similar situation saw the rider that caused the crash disqualified. “But they didn’t see it that way,” he said. “When I raised the issue of the precedent, and the regulation, the commissaire’s reply was that she wasn’t commissaire [in the prior race].”
The British Cycling performance director, Stephen Park, confirmed Britain had been one of the teams to call for the Danes’ disqualification over the use of illegal equipment. The appeal was rejected but Denmark did not ride with shin tape on Tuesday.
Bennekou said that his team had been given explicit permission by the judging panel to use the shin tape as an injury prevention mechanism. “We asked for permission – and obviously we didn’t try to cheat,” said Bennekou. “That would be stupid – it’s pretty easy to see – you cannot hide it.”
But Dyer alleged that Denmark had misrepresented their request. “The UCI believed that the Danes had asked them on the premise that it was for one rider only and on the basis of an injury,” he said. “They were shocked to see all four riders get up and do it.”
Park said that at a lively meeting of teams before Tuesday’s session the UCI confirmed the equipment could not be used for the rest of the competition, but indicated there would be no retroactive punishment despite rules saying a team should face elimination in such circumstances.
Great Britain also alleged that an undervest worn by Danish riders in qualifying was not commercially available at the beginning of the year (all equipment used by teams must be on retail sale).
“We don’t believe they were commercially available on the 1st of January this year, like they were supposed to be,” said Dyer. “It’s even my understanding that the website that retails the undervest, at 8.30am this morning, changed the wording on their product to suggest it was available at that time, but we don’t believe it was on sale until May.”
But when it was put to Dyer that he had accused Denmark of cheating, the coach sought to walk back on his comments. “I’m not alleging foul play by Denmark,” said the coach. “I’d like to see the UCI uphold the regulations, as they had the opportunity to do. It’s not sour grapes but you’d just like to think you’re on a level playing field,” he said.