Team AG2R Citroen rider Michael Schär caused quite a stir in the online cycling community yesterday with a post he made to his Instagram, titled “Dear UCI: WHY KIDS START CYCLING.” For context, Schär was disqualified from the Tour of Flanders this weekend for a strange and, until now, unheard of, rule violation. He didn’t shoulder charge a rival rider. He didn’t cut a corner to overtake someone. He didn’t throw his bike at a heckler by the roadside. No, he gently tossed one of his used water bottles to some cheering fans in the crowd, watching their favourite sport live in person, as so few people are allowed to do at the moment.
Under a new change to the rules that came into effect on April 1st, that is now a disqualifiable offense due to the fact that it is considered littering, and it is a textbook example of bureaucracy in effect. The need to address littering in the professional racing world is not small – riders are known to chuck used cups, bottles and other racing paraphernalia that has outlived its usefulness by the wayside. it’s bad for the environment, it leaves race sites ugly, and the debris can be hazardous to other riders on the road. People are pretty much in agreement that the racing world would be better off if there were some less litter-heavy way to fuel and service the riders in the peloton without all the clutter that follows behind. It is another instance of the UCI trying to “clean up,” if you will, the reputation of the sport.
This, however, is different. The German rider wasn’t contributing to the issues listed above, no. He was giving one lucky fan a moment to cherish. Rest assured that after that bottle hit the ground and those rambunctious fans swarmed to get it, no litter remained afterwards. Schär’s Instagram post expounds on how his experience receiving a water bottle from a rider at the 1997 Tour de France sparked his love of cycling and fuelled his desire to become a pro: “This little plastic piece made my cycling addiction complete. Back home that bottle was reminding me every day of what my dream was. I rode my yellow Team Polti bottle every day in full pride. Every day.” He argues that without the ability of riders to interact with fans in this way, all these moments will be lost, in time. Moments that warm the heart and inspire greatness in the sport.
The reaction has been raucous and almost totally in favour of Schär’s words. Many professionals also have stepped up to back the German, voicing their agreement. Letizia Borghesi, of Team Aromitalia Basso Bikes Vaiano, was also disqualified for the same infraction, saying that fines and disqualification for such actions are excessive and disappointing: “I think seeing a child’s smile when he takes a bottle on the side of the road is priceless. With this new rule, we’ll see a lot of smiles less and this is certainly not good for the cycling!” Schär ended his post with an uplifting sign-off: “These are moments why I love our sport. Nobody ever can take that away from us. We are the most approachable sport who gives bottles along the way. Simple as that. Simple is Cycling."