Riders angry about a roundabout and the deviation 300 metres from the finish
The sprinters have hauled themselves through two weeks of tough mountains and testing terrain at the Vuelta a Espana in the hope of winning the flat stage to Haro. But in a split second their chances were ruined just three hundred metres from the line by panic in the peloton as riders were unsure about going left or right at a roundabout.
It seems the Leopard Trek lead out train mistakenly went right at the roundabout, instinctively following an official motorbike instead of the race route to the left that led to the finish line. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) was well positioned until he was forced to slam on the brakes and dive left in the panic, while only a few lucky riders able to go left and have a clear sprint to the line.
Both Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervelo) and Daniele Bennati (Leopard Trek) were convinced they were about to win the stage but were left fuming after being caught up in the confusion.
"It's ridiculous. What the hell are we? Robots?" Haussler told Cyclingnews.
"I thought today's was going to be like the Vuelta used to be: a flat stage with a breakaway, a last hour at full gas and then a fast sprint. Instead we hit a roundabout at 70km/h virtually in sight of the finish. That's crazy. The whole Vuelta has been crazy. Why can't we have a normal finish?"
Haussler admitted he did not really know what happened in the high-speed confusion.
"I think I was on Petacchi's wheel but then riders suddenly started braking and sitting up. I braked too, but coming from the back there wasn't much I could do. I had to dive to the left to avoid crashing."
Daniele Bennati initially vented his disappointment via Twitter. He was desperate to win a stage to cement his leadership role in the Italian team for the world championships and boost morale at Leopard Trek after the confirmation of the merger with RadioShack in 2012.
"I didn't do anything wrong but paid a huge price," he said. "It's crazy that we had raced on a straight road for 200km and then there was a roundabout at 300 metres from the line.
"Unfortunately (Robert) Wagner went to the right because he was fooled by the motorbike in front of him. I knew I had to go left but there was little time to react when it happened."
"I really wanted to win and felt I could have done, I was perfectly placed. I wanted it for me, for my Leopard Trek teammates and for my teammates in the Italian national team. I wanted to prove that I'm on form."
With more mountain finishes and hilly stages to come in the next few days, the sprinters will now have to wait until the final stage to Madrid on Sunday for another chance at victory.