Vuelta a España riders release statement clarifying position on stage 11 protest

Riders at the Vuelta a España have released a statement detailing the reasoning for their short protest at the start of stage 11 in Villaviciosa.

The start of the stage was delayed as riders, led by Ineos Grenadiers' Chris Froome, protested the events of stage 10, which saw UCI commissaires make changes to the time gap rules at the finish without consulting teams or riders at the race.

With the stage designated a stage 'expected to finish in a bunch sprint', time gaps of three seconds or more would count at the finish, but the rule was later altered to reflect the uphill finish – a 1.5-kilometre, 5.9 per cent climb. As a result, riders were unaware that time gaps of one second or more would instead be taken at the finish line.

Froome, Jumbo-Visma – whose rider Primož Roglič had taken the race lead after benefitting from the rule change – and Movistar could all be seen discussing the issue with Vuelta director Javier Guillén, while EF Pro Cycling rider Michael Woods confirmed the situation in an interview with Eurosport.

On Sunday morning, Jumbo-Visma's Paul Martens and Israel Start-Up Nation's Rory Sutherland were among riders to post the rider's statement to social media.

"Two days ago, during stage 10, the UCI Jury made changes to the time gap rules without consulting or informing teams or riders," read the statement. "At the beginning of stage 10, all riders and teams were informed and understood the three-second rule would be applicable in the stage. This means any gaps in the peloton at the finish line of three seconds or more would be counted as the bunch time.

"However, unbeknownst to the teams or riders, the UCI Jury made a critical change to this rule and called the stage a hilltop finish. Therefore, any gaps between riders would count in the overall classification and this ruling changed the outcome of the race leader." 

Martens' teammate Roglič took his third stage win of the race in Suances ahead of Bora-Hansgrohe rider Felix Großschartner. However, the Slovenian's main GC rival, Richard Carapaz of Ineos Grenadiers, came home in a group just behind Roglič and the riders behind him, and was given a time three seconds in arrears putting the pair on equal GC time and the Ecuadorian out of the red jersey.

"The riders and teams spent months researching stages extensively and a lot of work goes into team strategy on a daily basis to put lead riders or possible stage contenders into the best position possible," continued the statement. "While we have no issues with the rules being implemented, we object to the fact that the major stakeholders – riders and teams – were not informed of this critical change by the UCI Jury.

"We were told that it is the right of the UCI to change the rule as they see fit. If teams and riders can spend time and resources analysing the finish of each stage, then we expect the same from the UCI. This entire situation could have been avoided with some simple research and communication."

The statement went on to clarify that the protest was not a partisan argument led by Ineos, who had lost the race lead, but was supported by Jumbo-Visma as well as the rest of the peloton at the race.

"The protest towards the situation includes not only the team that lost the jersey due to this ruling, but the team that gained the jersey. It is supported by the entire peloton of La Vuelta 2020. We agree all here to compete at the highest level and strive for victory, but the rules need to be applied in a just and swift manner to allow for a fair race outcome.

"The riders would like to sincerely express that this protest is not in any way directed at the race organisation, nor does the responsibility rest with them. We are grateful for the measures they have put in place for our safety in all stages and it has been unanimously agreed upon within the peloton that La Vuelta 2020 has been one of the safest and well-organised races during the current pandemic. We applaud the measures they have put in place to make the race as safe as possible.

"We feel it is important to note this statement is written by the riders. We have come together and all agree on the statement and our protest," concluded the statement, signed by riders at the race.

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