PARIS • Frenchman Romain Bardet apologised after being kicked out of the Paris-Nice race at the end of Sunday's opening stage for hanging on to a team car.
One of the pre-race favourites, last year's Tour de France runner-up had crashed in the final 25km of a frantic and enthralling stage animated by wind and rain.
But he stooped to illegal means to try to catch the peloton by holding on to his AG2R team car.
"We made a mistake through a lack of lucidity at a key moment of the stage, taken hurriedly due to my crash and the circumstances of a fantastic and animated stage. I'm deeply sorry," said a contrite Bardet, 26. "Nothing justifies the prolonged help of the support cars when fixing (a bike problem).
"This practice, too often tacitly tolerated in the peloton, is now faced with safeguards that are necessary to guarantee the integrity of our sport."
Team manager Vincent Lavenu felt the punishment was "very severe" and insisted the rider was blameless. "I want to clear Romain's name because he doesn't deserve a bad image given we know all about his integrity," he said.
"The punishment doesn't fit at all with his state of mind, his philosophy - he is someone fundamentally respectful."
Bardet was also fined 200 Swiss francs (S$280) while AG2R sports director Julien Jurdie was kicked off the race, alongside the offending team car.
Frenchman Arnaud Demare outsprinted compatriot Julian Alaphilippe by 4sec to win the 148.5km stage of the week-long race in 3:22:33, with Norway's Alexander Kristoff third past the finish line in the west Parisian suburbs.
Bardet was among a group of favourites, including Australia's Richie Porte and Alberto Contador of Spain, caught out by a split in the peloton caused by strong winds just 40km into the race.
They were forced to chase for more than 100km, eventually coming in around a minute behind the winner.