Vuelta a España leader Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has rejected rumours that he and his team had tried to ensure rival Chris Froome (Team Sky) stayed dropped after his crash by upping the pace in the main peloton.
Initial reports suggested, although did not directly confirm, that Movistar and Tinkoff-Saxo had opened up the throttle when race radio announced Froome had crashed. In fact, Valverde said - and others confirmed his version to Cyclingnews - that the attacks were already underway when Froome crashed and lost a minute on the main bunch. According to Valverde, the peloton then slowed afterwards to allow the Briton to get back into the main pack.
“When we heard he had fallen, we were reacting to the attacks that had already happened,” Biciciclismo reported Valverde as saying.
“We never rode to ensure that Froome would be dropped. Nothing like that, it was a crash and you have to respect that.”
The attacks Valverde referred to came when Movistar teammate Nairo Quintana, second overall, attempted to get into a break and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) reacted by chasing him down. Just at that moment, Froome crashed.
But there is perhaps more to the story than meets the eye. In 2012 Valverde had lost the leader’s jersey of the Vuelta on stage four after he crashed late on the stage. Sky had already started attacking en masse, causing echelons before he fell, but Valverde was furious at the time, calling Sky’s behaviour anti-sporting. Sky defended themselves by saying the television images were not working at that point and they had had no idea that Valverde had crashed during their attack.
“The stage itself was very demanding, we raced very hard and the heat might have been a little better than yesterday, but it was still pretty bad,” Valverde said.
“It was a very dangerous stage, there were a lot of crashes. Tomorrow’s [flat stage to Albacete] is dangerous too because of the cross-winds. But as I’m a race leader, as you’ve always got to be on the front anyway, it’s harder to get caught out.”