As the battle intensifies for positions on the Vuelta a España's general classification, things got rough-and-tumble at the end of Monday's ninth stage. Alejandro Valverde sprinted to third place and into the leader's gold jersey, while behind him Cadel Evans and Robert Gesink battled it – quite literally.
As the two riders entered the final corner, both Evans (Silence-Lotto) and Gesink (Rabobank) were on the right-hand side of a small bunch that also included Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) and Ivan Basso (Liquigas). Gesink moved over to his right at the same time as the Australian attempted to pass on his inside. Evans retaliated with a head-butt to the ribs of the 14-centimetre taller Dutch rider.
After reaching the finish line, Evans complained that he had been hindered in the sprint, and that Gesink should have given him priority, as leader of the race. "I loathe him. I have nothing nice to say about Gesink," he said, according to Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf.
However, the Australian had cooled down later. "In the final, a 'racing incident' with another rider in the last 200m stopped me trying to defend the leader's jersey," Evans wrote on his website. "Very frustrating on my part; I did let my competitor know about it, probably with a bit too much of my racing spirit and frustration. No hard feelings towards my colleague there, apologies will be in order."
Gesink shrugged the whole incident off. Replays of the incident seem to indicate that he held his line, as Valverde passed on his left and Evans attempted to move around on his right. Taking the narrower line, the angle of the barriers further restricted Evans as he attempted to pass. "Afterwards he was angry because he could not defend the jersey, but I couldn't do anything," Gesink said on his team's website.
Gesink was defended by none other than new overall leader Valverde. "Gesink did nothing wrong," he said. "It is a sprint that only lasts a few seconds. Things like that happen, but he certainly didn't stop Evans."
Regardless of the incident Gesink moved up from fifth to third position after he caught the trio of Valverde, Evans and Basso on the descent to the finish in Xorret del Catí. The Rabobank rider had been dropped on the final climb of the Alto de Xorret del Catí, but fought back to gain time over general classification rivals Tom Danielson (Garmin-Slipstream) and Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
"That is certainly good, because I have to fight back. Today I could not instantly answer the attacks [of Valverde]," said Gesink. "But I was able to keep the pace and come back. That is my strength and I've shown it again today. It's unfortunate that I lost the sprint by Valverde, but I've at least tried."
Gesink will start Tuesday's stage 10 with a 36 second deficit to the leader Valverde and 29 seconds to second placed Evans.
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