A survey of former professionals by the Spanish newspaper AS has found that an overwhelming majority say Sky did not behave incorrectly when Alejandro Valverde fell and then the British team continued to drive the echelon they had just started to form seconds before the crash happened on stage 4 of the Vuelta a España.
Valverde slumped from first to ninth overall, and yesterday was furious with Sky’s racing tactics, going to the Sky team bus to remonstrate with the British team after the finish.
However, all eight ex-pros interviewed said they did not believe there was any kind of intentionality in the crash, something that even Valverde’s Movistar sports director Eusebio Unzue, who initially accused the British of provoking the pile-up, now recognises.
Only one, 2006 Tour winner Oscar Pereiro argued that Sky should have stopped, saying “Sky, as well as other teams, waited for Cadel Evans (BMC) in the Tour this year [when hooligans flung tacks on the course on a stage through the Pyrenees – ed.] so there is a precedent.”
However, the other seven – all Spanish – are anything but convinced that is the case, with experienced radio commentator and former Vuelta podium finisher Eduardo Chozas saying “there’s no norm for this kind of situation and if they had waited, the racing would have become devalued. I’m sorry for Valverde, but they shouldn’t have stopped in this case.”
“Why should they stop?” former Tour and Vuelta stage winner Roberto Laiseka told AS. “They formed the echelon and they went for it. It wasn’t unsporting.”
“In my time we went on at a normal pace when somebody crashed,” said three times Tour King of the Mountains winner Julio Jiménez. “If you fall, then you have to accept it. Bad luck.”
“The echelon had formed before the crash,” pointed out David Etxebarría, a rider fans may remember for his ‘kung-fu’ type salute when he won a Tour stage back in 1999. “It wasn’t a result of it.”
Looking further ahead, there were calls amongst the Spanish media for some kind of clear rule to be established about whether the peloton should stop when the leader falls. At the moment it is up to the riders and sports directors to make a decision, which – whatever that decision is – almost invariably creates controversy.
Spain’s Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky), who helped create the echelon, pointed out that nobody had waited for him when a race vehicle slammed into him and Johnny Hoogerland in the Tour de France last year.
“If the crash [in the Vuelta] had been a result of our acceleration, it would have been wrong on our part,” Flecha said. “Nobody told me to stop yesterday and I only found out late that Alejandro Valverde had been involved.
“There are lots of crashes in a race. When should we stop? I’m not going to become a commissaire and decide when we stop. It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last.”