Tour of the Basque Country stage 5: Hands off! Freire disqualified
April 8, 2011 2 Comments
Rabobank‘s Óscar Freire was relegated after being first across the finish line in the sprint at Zalla on stage five of the Tour of the Basque Country (Vuelta al Pais Vasco). After an appeal by the Lampre team, race officials decided that illegal use of hands in the final kilometre had contributed to his victory, as a result of which Francesco Gavazzi was promoted to stage winner. Joaquim Rodríguez retained the leader’s yellow jersey going into tomorrow’s concluding time trial.
On another hot day with temperatures exceeding 30ºC, most of the major contenders were happy to conserve their energy for tomorrow. After a few initial attacks had been pulled back in, an escape group of three finally slipped away containing HTC-Highroad‘s Michael Albasini, who was seeking to clinch the mountains classification, and the Quick Step pair of Dario Cataldo and Kevin Seeldraeyers. Albasini sat up with 20km to go, having secured all the climbing points he needed, and soon after Cataldo dropped away from Seeldraeyers as they approached the seventh and final climb of the day.
With the peloton closing in on Seeldraeyers with 15km remaining, Jelle Vanendert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) leapt across the gap and continued on over the top of the Quick Step rider. He was quickly joined by Movistar‘s David López – a significant threat in the overall, just six seconds off the lead – and then Vacansoleil‘s Wouter Poels also bridged the gap to form a dangerous three-man break. With Rabobank leading the pursuit, the trio pulled out an advantage of 18 seconds before support from RadioShack and Lampre reeled them back in with 4.5km to the finish.
At just over 3km to go, HTC’s Marco Pinotti jumped off the front of the peloton but his escape was short-lived, as was that of the counter-attacking Steve Cummings (Sky), with Rabobank determined to keep everything together to set up Freire. Despite a late effort by Samuel Sánchez just after the flamme rouge, Freire got a good lead-out from teammate Luis León Sánchez, squeezing through just inside the barriers to finish a length ahead of Gavazzi, with Kristof Vandewalle (Quick Step) and, surprisingly, John Gadret (Ag2R-La Mondiale), who is better known as a climber, rounding out the top four.
However, overhead TV images suggested that both Rabobank men had lifted their hands off their handlebars in the closing kilometre to nudge other riders aside, and that Sánchez had also given Freire a helping push as he went past. As a result, the pair were relegated to the back of the front bunch, in 47th and 48th, with Gavazzi being awarded the victory instead.
Freire felt hard done by after learning that the victory had been taken away from him:
I am surprised at [the disqualification]. It’s not fair. I demonstrated that I was the strongest in the final 200 metres. [Luis] touched me, but you shouldn’t really take it into account, because it was him who almost closed me down and the differences were already made.
It is the second time in as many years that Freire has been disqualified at this race. In 2010, he was adjudged to have blocked another rider in the sprint, and was relegated to second place. The stage was awarded to Alejandro Valverde, who was subsequently banned for doping, with the win being retrospectively given back to Freire.
The race ends tomorrow with a 24km individual time trial. Rodríguez, who struggles in this discipline, will be hard pressed to defend even a podium position, with just ten seconds separating the top ten riders on general classification.
Stage 5 result:
1. Francesco Gavazzi (Lampre-Farnese Vini) 4:27:03
2. Kristof Vandewalle (Quick Step) same time
3. John Gadret (AG2R-La Mondiale) s/t
4. Pim Ligthart (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t
5. Egoitz Garcia (Caja Rural) s/t
1. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 21:39:46
2. Andreas Klöden (RadioShack) same time
3. Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) s/t
4. Chris Horner (RadioShack) + 0:01
5. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervélo) + 0:06
Tour of the Basque Country posts