The Deceuninck-QuickStep team decided to skip the podium ceremony after stage 4 of the Vuelta a San Juan on Wednesday in Villa San Agustín, where race leader Julian Alaphilippe, best U23 rider Remco Evenepoel and stage third-place finisher Alvaro Hodeg would normally have accepted their daily prizes.
The Belgian team cited fatigue for the decision, with Alaphilippe, Evenepoel and Hodeg ordered to stay at the team vehicles rather than head to the podium after the stage. The riders refused to comment and stayed in their team van as the podium ceremony went on without them. The race organisers later confirmed that the UCI judges had decided to fine Alaphilippe, Evenepoel, Hodeg and directeur sportif Davide Bramati 500 Swiss francs (505 US dollars). Alaphilippe and Hodeg were also penalised 3 UCI points, the points that Alaphillipe earned as race leader on Wednesday.
The team said they intend to continue in the Vuelta a San Juan, in contrast to team manager Patrick Lefevere's threat to pull the riders from the race. However, their disappointment at the expulsion of Iljo Keisse was palpable. The Belgian rider was expelled by the race organiser late Tuesday night after he was fined 3,000 pesos by a local judge for feigning a sexual act while a local waitress posed for a photo with Keisse and his teammates last Friday.
Alaphilippe had to attend anti-doping after the stage but did not attend the post-race press conference. The team then quickly packed up and began the four-hour drive back to their hotel in San Juan.
The team refuted it was some form of protest against the expulsion of Keisse.
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"It's not a protest action," Alessandro Tegner, the team's marketing and communication manager, told the media, including Cyclingnews, who were at the stage finish.
"The podium is an obligation, but if you don’t feel good, I think you have the right to not go on the podium for once," Tegner said. "For Remco and Alvaro, it was a question that they didn’t feel too good in the last part of the race, so we decided to don't go to the podium. Tomorrow is another day, and on Friday let's hope to go on the podium again."
Tegner suggested the riders have been affected by the events of the last few days.
"I think that with all the situations we've had in the last few days, with all the stress the riders had in the last few hours, with the decision, etc., I think it's normal they felt the pressure. I'm sure tomorrow is another day, and Friday we'll be at the start of the stage."
The race organisers and the UCI commissaire's have yet to react to the team's decision to skip the ceremonies, but the Deceuninck-QuickStep team could face a fine.
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