Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) has been ejected from the Vuelta a España after television pictures showed that he held onto a team car while chasing back on following a crash in the final 30 kilometres of stage 2 to Caminito del Rey.
Directeur sportif Alexandre Shefer, who was driving the car, has also been expelled from the Vuelta, and Astana will have just one team car in the race on stages 3 and 4. Nibali and Shefer have also been fined 200 Swiss Francs apiece.
The decision was announced by head commissaire Bruno Valcic at the race permanence in Álora on Sunday evening following lengthy deliberations after the stage.
"The film is very clear, it shows that Nibali has put his hand on the car for 100 metres," Valcic said. "So the penalty for this is very clear. The decision of the commissaires is very clear, Vincenzo Nibali has been disqualified from the race."
The video footage of Nibali holding onto the car with 16 kilometres remaining, when he trailed the bunch by 37 seconds, was circulated widely on the internet in the immediate aftermath of the stage, and while Astana’s Stefano Zanini appealed for clemency when he met with commissaires as part of their deliberations, Valcic said that they had no option but to exclude Nibali.
"I can only say that it was a very tough decision for the commissaires panel but looking at the pictures it was very clear," Valcic said. "There was no opportunity to give any other penalty to the rider."
Nibali was brought down in a crash with 30 kilometres remaining in Sunday’s opening road stage, and after a lengthy wait for a replacement bike, he set off with more than a minute and a half to recoup on the peloton.
The Sicilian initially had Dario Cataldo, Diego Rosa and Alessandro Vanotti for company, and when they had exhausted themselves, Andrey Zeits dropped back to help Nibali. He bridged back to the peloton with 13 kilometres remaining, three kilometres after the incident that was captured so clearly by the television helicopter.
Nibali went on to struggle on the final climb to the finish at Caminito del Rey, placing 31st on the stage and conceding 1:28 to stage winner Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) and almost a minute to the principal favourites for overall victory.
It is understood that Zanini, who represented Astana at the meeting of the college of commissaires, had appealed for them to apply a time penalty of up to ten minutes rather than exclude Nibali from the race entirely, but Valcic reiterated that the regulations were clear.
"We waited until now to announce the decision because it was not possible at the finish to see certain films and videos," Valcic said. "We saw the film from Eurosport’s live coverage with the situation of Nibali."
Astana issued a press release late Sunday night explaining the team was "sorry for the error, and apologizes to the peloton and race organizers for the harm these televised images caused to professional cycling".
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