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Worlds flashback: 1988

Steve Bauer and Claude Criquielion's infamous tangle

Thursday, Cycling Canada released its lineup for the UCI world cycling championships in Limburg, Netherlands, which included Ryder Hesjedal, Svein Tuft, Joëlle Numainville and Rhae-Christie Shaw. Traditionally, Canada does best in the elite time trail events. Svein Tuft, Clara Hughes, Anne Samplonius all took silver in that even in 2008, 1995 and 1994, respectively.

However, Canada has won road race bronze three time: Alison Sydor in 1991, Linda Jackson in 1996 and Steve Bauer in 1984. Bauer, in fact, garnered his worlds bronze just a couple of weeks after his silver in the Los Angeles Olympic Games road race and turning pro. That bronze in Barcelona came in a race won by Belgian Claude Criquielion. Four years later Criquielion and Bauer would become linked in a notorious incident that haunted them both.

In 1988, the worlds were in Ronse, Belgium. That year, Bauer finished fourth in the Tour de France for his new team Weinmann-La Suisse, wearing the yellow jersey for five days along the way. The day of the worlds road race, he bridged to a leading duo of Criquielion and Italian Maurizio Fondriest with little more than 1 km to go.

When the sprint began, Bauer, obviously spent by the effort required to bridge, led out to the line. Criquielion tried to slip by on the inside against the barriers. Bauer, who had been standing, sat to change gears, his right elbow jutting out.

Criquielion crashed and a surprised Fondriest came around Bauer to take his only world championship victory as the Belgian crowd booed. Criquielion, enraged, walked his bike over the finish line in 11th place. The judges disqualified Bauer from his silver, but the Canadian soon had a bigger worry: Criquielion sued him for $1.5 million in damages.

The case took three and a half years for a Belgian judge to decide in favour of Bauer. By that time, Criquielion had already retired. Meanwhile, the cycling community had been debating the merits of each man’s position. How much did Bauer stray off his line? How dangerous was the elbow? Why didn’t Criquielion accept the risks of the against-the-barriers move? Wasn’t litigation a bit harsh?

It was a sprint that would inextricably link the two cyclists in the mind of the cycling world. For Bauer, a rider hag-ridden by bad luck throughout his career, it was a lawsuit that added insult to injury.