A fascinating week of racing at the Tour of the Basque Country came to a controversial end on Sunday, after Astana's Jakob Fuglsang found himself first racing to a podium spot and even standing on the final podium, before being retroactively demoted due to a decision by the race organisers.
Over a minute after the Dane had finished, and unbeknownst to him, race leader Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) had taken a wrong turn in the closing metres of stage 6, losing vital seconds as he sought to hang on to third overall.
One of the six men from the chase group to suffer the impromptu detour – due to either rider or marshal error – Buchmann was later given the same time as those riders who stayed on course. That meant that he gained 12 seconds on Fuglsang, who ultimately finished five seconds down in fourth.
Fuglsang, who had stood on the final podium after the race, took to Instagram to voice his displeasure at the decision, saying, "First on the podium as third overall after a day where I left it all out on the road for Ion [Izagirre] to take the victory, and to get on the final podium.
"Afterwards, they then stripped me of the podium because Buchmann followed the deviation of the cars and motorbikes [at] 300 metres to go. Afterwards, he was given the same time as the other guys in his group that went the right way.
"[I've] never heard of something like that before and I’m speechless about the decision. I mean, he didn't have a technical problem or crash – HE went wrong. [I] find it ridiculous."
Fuglsang formed part of an elite escape group, including stage winner Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and the UAE Team Emirates duo of Dan Martin and Tadej Pogačar, who got away in the final 65km of the stage. The Dane worked for team leader and eventual race winner Ion Izagirre as the group distanced race leader Buchmann.
In the closing kilometres, Buchmann was racing to save his podium spot from Fuglsang when, metres from the finish, he and five others were held up by the mistake, all briefly heading down the slip road while Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), Mikel Landa (Movistar) and EF Education First's Hugh Carthy reacted quickly enough to take the corner. The riders who took the wrong turn with Buchmann would also later have their times altered to wipe out the error.
The result breaks a mini-podium streak for Fuglsang, with the 34-year-old following up his Vuelta a Andalucía victory with second at Strade Bianche and third overall at Tirreno-Adriatico prior to racing the Tour of the Basque Country.
In an Astana press release, Fuglsang added to his earlier statements, noting the bizarre situation he had found himself in.
"Honestly, it was a very strange decision by the jury. Of course, I'm disappointed about it," he said. "I think this is not normal when you do the whole podium ceremony and then, finally, get given fourth place.
"I didn't know what had happened there behind me, but this whole situation looks so wrong and ridiculous.
"Anyway, I'm happy for Ion Izagirre and his victory. Today we were very motivated, and did everything we'd planned. It was all or nothing for Ion, and I'm proud that I was part of this great win."