10 World Championship Controversies

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The race for the rainbow jersey is ripe for scandal and intrigue. A look at ten of the juiciest incidents from the World Championships’ history

Photographs: Offside/l'Equipe



The UCI World Championships are no strangers to controversy. Remember Doha, Qatar, in 2016? The searing heat, course safety concerns around human rights in the host country all contributed to a few frayed tempers.

That wasn’t the first time that scandal has hit the headlines in the fight for the rainbow jersey, however.

1963 – Ronse

A Belgian won, but it wasn’t the man everyone expected. Pre-race favourite Rik Van Looy was pipped by compatriot Benoni Beheyt, who grabbed hold of his leader’s jersey in a dirty sprint and hoisted himself to victory. It became known as the ‘Treason of Renaix.’ Van Looy didn’t speak to him for years and the new champion struggled to get criterium contracts, retiring ignominiously five years later, at the age of 28.

1965 – San Sebastián

As Tom Simpson took the race by the scruff of the neck to win Britain’s first rainbow jersey, pre-race favourites Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor played silly buggers behind. They spent the day watching one another before abandoning. L’Equipe dubbed them “champions of palaver” and the pair were booed by the crowd at the next race.

Simpson is mobbed after winning the rainbow jersey in San Sebastián

2001 – Lisbon

When it comes to the Worlds, the Italian national team seem to be either brothers in arms or at one other’s throats. On this occasion in Lisbon, Gilberto Simoni was alone and riding away on the last lap. But compatriot Paolo Lanfranchi started the pursuit, his rivals took it up and Simoni was snared. He was furious, later claiming that team-mate Paolo Bettini had told Lanfranchi to chase him down.

1982 – Goodwood

A case of stars and strifes for the USA after second-placed Greg LeMond chased down team-mate Jonathan Boyer’s attack in the dying embers of the race. “I don’t think Boyer could or should be a world champion,” LeMond said afterward. “The truth is that this US team was not a team at all. I did not stay with the other riders, or spend time with them, and I paid my own way to the Worlds … I was definitely not going to give up my chances for someone who would never do the same for me.”

Rudi Altig and Raymond Poulidor (r) stand defiantly on the pit-lane podium in Germany

1966 – Nürburgring

Rudi Altig won on home soil at the Nürburgring and subsequently refused to provide a urine sample for the drug test, still something of a novelty back then. Fellow podum finishers Anquetil and Poulidor followed suit. It was a debacle: the top three were disqualified, only to be reinstated ten days’ later by the UCI.

1973 – Barcelona

Into the sprint finish and it was fast-finishing compatriots Merckx and Maertens versus Gimondi and Ocaña. Foregone conclusion, right? Wrong: Fast Freddy led out his team-mate, cycling’s greatest had nothing left and the title went to their Italian rival by centimetres. Shimano-shifting Maertens blamed it on a Campagnolo conspiracy; meanwhile, Merckx was furious that his compatriot chased down his earlier attack. It took almost 30 years for the two Belgian greats to bury the hatchet.

Gimondi pips Maertens as Eddy Merckx (l) fades to fourth place

1988 – Ronse

In a three-up sprint, local hero Claude Criquielion and Steve Bauer tangled and fell in the final straight in Renaix. It was a case of last man standing, as Maurizio Fondriest casually took the rainbow jersey. It all happened in a split second, but the affair dragged on for years: “Criq” lost his 1992 court cause for assault, seeking $1.5 million in damages.

2005 – Madrid

After accepting €2,500 each to work on the front for the Italians during the race’s early stages, British duo Tom Southam and Charly Wegelius were caught up in controversy. Team manager John Herety was forced to resign and the pair was banned for life from the national team.

Jeannie Longo was banned from the French national team for almost two years

1994 – Agrigento

French pair Catherine Marsal and Cécile Odin were sitting pretty in a five-rider breakaway. Rather than wait in the bunch, team-mate Jeannie Longo bridged across then forced the pace. She soon faded, as did Marsal and Odin. “We were going to win medals; instead, we lost everything,” said coach Pascale Renucci afterwards. Divisive doyenne Longo was banned from the national team till the ’96 Olympics.

2013 – Florence

There was a Spanish inquisition after Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde fouled it up from a four-man break. The Katusha climber was alone in front, two kilometres from victory when chaser Rui Costa surged behind. But Valverde didn’t react, instead sitting on the knackered Nibali and the rainbow jersey went to the Portuguese. “Purito” wept on the podium. “Losing like this is stupid. We were the strongest. It was so simple and the gold eluded us … Valverde had to follow when Costa attacked. Why didn’t he follow?”

A tearful Joaquim Rodriguez (l) after Rui Costa conquered the Spanish team in Italy


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