Cyclist escapes penalty for alleged racist abuse in Austria
VIENNA (AP) Belarussian cyclist Branislau Samoilau escaped punishment Friday for allegedly racially abusing a member of the African MTN-Qhubeka team during the Tour of Austria after apologizing to the victim and offering a donation to charity.
MTN filed a complaint with the UCI race jury after Wednesday's fourth stage, claiming its Eritrean rider Natnael Berhane had been victim of racist remarks by Samoilau, who rides for the Polish CCC Sprandi Polkowice team.
The race jury spoke with both riders and their teams before deciding to refrain from further action, the UCI said Friday.
''Everyone agreed that it was unacceptable, and the rider apologized and offered to donate one month's salary to team MTN-Qhubeka's foundation,'' cycling's governing body added. ''All parties were satisfied with the outcome.''
The Qhubeka foundation, which is the World Bicycle Relief program in South Africa, is collecting money to buy 5,000 bikes for African children.
Samoilau allegedly used a racially abusive word when shouting at Berhane during the 210-kilometer stage from Gratwein to Villach in the Austrian Alps. The fourth-ranked Berhane was trailing overall leader Gonzalez Victor De La Parte of Spain by 2 minutes, 16 seconds after Friday's stage, while Samoilau was over 10 minutes back in 27th.
''In the heat of the battle some words have been said by our rider, which were very unfortunate and unacceptable,'' CCC said in a statement. ''Before the next stage the situation has been clarified between the two teams and the riders, but we don't want to get into details.''
MTN team principal Douglas Ryder confirmed Berhane accepted Samoilau's apologies and the Eritrean rider didn't want the Belarussian to be excluded from the event.
''Natnael has forgiven the guy. The UCI wanted to kick him out of the race and Natnael was like `No, it's fine, he can race,''' Ryder said before the start of Friday's seventh stage of the Tour de France in the Normandy town of Livarot.
Ryder said Berhane was ''incredibly upset'' by the incident but didn't want to take it further, adding MTN still retained its zero-tolerance approach when it comes to racism.
''There is bullying in the peloton that happens, when riders are pushing each other and some things are said,'' Ryder said. ''But that's one thing and that's sport, but racism and saying something like that is completely unacceptable. We have no tolerance for that at all. It happened and I think the rider's really sorry about it. It's good that the teams have taken a stance against it for sure and he's realized his mistake.''
Asked by The Associated Press for his reaction, MTN rider Stephen Cummings said he didn't ''really know what happened ... It's terrible if that's what he did, it's not right. You just don't do that. (...) It's unacceptable. But I don't know what the right and wrong thing to do (about it) is. It's not for me to decide ... But I'm quite shocked actually.''
Etixx-Quick Step manager Patrick Lefevere, who had Samoilau in his squad for one season in 2010, called the Belarussian rider ''quite discreet.''
''I never had any problem of this sort with him,'' Lefevere said. ''If this story is true, it's unfortunate. We need to avoid the path footballers are taking.''
MTN spokesman Veit Hammer said the team was also targeted by racist insults at the Spanish Vuelta last year.
''It is totally unacceptable,'' Hammer said. ''We've reached out to the UCI and race organizers. It's for them to handle the case. It's an education process. Cycling is a global sport with a lot of different cultures. Cultures don't divide people, it's people that divide people.''
During last year's Tour de France, Swiss rider Michael Albasini was accused of directing a racial slur toward Frenchman Kevin Reza, a black rider from Europcar, according to Reza's manager Jean-Rene Bernaudeau. A day after the story broke out, Bernaudeau said the matter was closed after the two riders had a discussion, explaining that it was more a case of miscommunication.
AP sports writers Samuel Petrequin and Jerome Pugmire contributed from Livarot, France