Movistar angry at Volta a Catalunya 'mind-boggling' TTT penalty

Movistar have reacted angrily to the UCI’s decision to give all their riders a penalty of one minute after Jose Joaquin Rojas was seen pushing two other riders during Tuesday’s team time trial.

The decision was taken overnight by the UCI commissaires at the race and communicated to the teams on Wednesday morning as they were heading to the start. It overturns a previous penalty awarded Tuesday evening that saw Rojas and the two riders he pushed, Nelson Oliveira and Andrey Amador, punished. 

Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde has subsequently been stripped of the leadership, which briefly had belonged to Rojas before he received the initial penalty on Tuesday evening. Ben Hermans of BMC, who finished two seconds behind Movistar in the team time trial, has taken over instead.

Movistar’s anger was evident at the start of stage 3 in Mataró, with most staff tight-lipped and Eusebio Unzue, the team manager, refusing to talk to reporters.

Valverde and Rojas waited together at the start as the race prepared to roll out, several yards away from the front, where BMC’s Hermans and Kilian Franciny, now leading the Best Young Rider classification, stood talking quietly and waiting for the start after a tumultuous 24 hours for the race.

Valverde had refused to comment to Cyclingnews on Tuesday evening about the situation – before news broke that he had lost the leadership. His team director Jose Luis Arrieta hinted strongly that Movistar could take a more passive attitude than usual in the Volta from hereon when he told Biciciclismo before the start that “we’ll be in the race, but we may not be there.”

“Basically there’s nothing we can say or do [about the penalisation]. Two things are clear, the rules and the images. They can be seen and interpreted and that’s what they’ve done. They [the UCI commissaires] can interpret what they like, but that’s not how we see it. They called us today and told us the news. It’s mind-boggling.”

“We’ll be in the race, but we won’t be in the race,” Arrieta told Biciciclismo. “It seems like there are teams who are upset we are here and that we win. Well they can make the race and put on the show.”

BMC Team director on the race Jackson Stewart told Cyclingnews that they had mixed feelings about how the situation had played out, even if they now had the lead. BMC, having lost the TTT by two seconds, had protested to the commissaires against Movistar’s pushes, both before and after the original penalty forRojas, Amador and Oliveira was handed out.

“We were very happy to see it [the original decision to penalise only Rojas, not the entire squad] had come out as a mistake. We spoke with the commissaire and he had the rulebook there and initially he said ‘yes it only affects the riders [who pushed], not the stage overall.”

“So we said ‘ok, we trust you’ but then when we got back to the team hotel we looked at the rulebook again, and told the commissaires they’d made a mistake. But they said ‘it’s different in French’ and we looked in French and it was exactly the same."

“So then they changed their answer again and I think they went to Movistar last night, and they said we’re discussing it. We were calling them [the UCI], everybody was calling them, and then in the morning, driving here, they said they were reversing the decision, we realised we’ve made a mistake.”

“Well, everyone can make a mistake and we’re very happy they realised it. For the fans and the organisation, I’m sorry that a change had to be made.”

Stewart said, however, that he did not want, “to see them [Movistar] have any time penalty, I just want to say that we won the stage, that was our argument. We felt that we should have won the stage but we don’t want those guys all out of contention for the GC ,that’s not the way anyone wants to win, especially all the riders [being all penalised] for one rider.

“It’s really bad for all the team to be penalised for one rider, but in the end I’m happy to see the UCI rethink it and apply the correct rule, even if maybe it wasn’t applied correctly.”

As for BMC’s strategy from here on, Stewart said “I hope it’s a morale boost, we had to tell some guys on the bus now that their day is changed. But in any case I think it’s going to be a very hard stage because some teams are not happy with their team time trial, a lot of teams with multiple options.”

“Regardless of who is controlling, it’s more on us and we have to take that on.” But he confirmed that what really rankled with BMC was the question of the stage win.” It’s unfortunate though, these guys, this is their lives and they didn’t get to celebrate. They didn’t get to go to sleep with the same satisfaction.”

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