The Vuelta a España peloton staged a brief protest at the start of stage 11 in Villaviciosa, disagreeing with a change to the time gap rule that race commissaires had implemented at the end of stage 10.
The move, which spelled an end to Richard Carapaz's (Ineos Grenadiers) time in the red jersey, saw the Ecuadorian lose three seconds to stage winner Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and a group of seven other riders, including Dan Martin (Israel Start Up Nation).
UCI regulations designate that, on stages 'expected to finish in bunch sprints', time gaps are counted if there is a gap of three seconds or more between groups. Stage 10, which finished with a 1.5-kilometre, 5.9 per cent climb, was subject to this rule, though the rule was later changed to the usual one-second gap.
Roglič and Carapaz, thanks to the split and a ten-second bonus for winning the stage overall, are tied on time overall. But Roglič, with better places in the previous stages – two stage wins – ended up being awarded the lead he had lost to Carapaz on stage 7.
But overnight, a groundswell of feeling grew amongst riders that the pre-race regulations governing time gaps had been altered by the commissaires, reportedly sparking the protest.
Riders stopped briefly at the depart fictif in the small town of Villaviciosa, with Chris Froome (Ineos Grenadiers) seen heading what looked to be a firm and frank discussion – at a distance – with race management, including race director Javier Guillén. Others gathered around the Briton, with Movistar and Jumbo-Visma also discussing the matter.
Luis Ángel Maté (Cofidis) briefly darted away ahead of the pack, but stopped a little further on when he realised the race was not moving then returned to find out what was going on.
In a pre-stage interview with Eurosport, EF Pro Cycling climber Michael Woods confirmed that there had been general dissatisfaction over what constituted a recognised time gap between riders when the bunch fractured – as happened on stage 10 – at finishes.
"It was a mistake on the UCI commissioners' part," he said. "They initially said at the start of the race there was going to be a three-second gap as opposed to a one-second gap."
"Looking at the finish [of stage 10] it should have been a one-second gap but they said that at the start, and at the finish they changed their minds."
"I don't think that's fair and I don't think you can change the rules on a whim, because that alters how we would have raced. Obviously Hugh Carthy [Woods' teammate, who lost 10 seconds] would have been more aggressive going into the finish, trying to get further up in position just so he wouldn't have had to make up for those time gaps."
"[EF sprinter] Magnus Cort would have gone harder to make sure he would have closed up the gaps. If you change the rules like that, you're going to change how you race and that's a poor decision on their part."
"But that's where we are at right now, we've been talking to the CPA in terms of trying to put up a protest and I think everyone's on board about it, even Jumbo-Visma, who wouldn't benefit from this ruling [if the decision was reversed]."
Woods also pointed out to Eurosport that up to now in the Vuelta, gaps as small of as a handful of seconds were of paramount importance and could even end up pivoting the final outcome. "It's a very tight GC battle," he reflected. "Three seconds, ten seconds, that's going to be a difference maker for sure.
During stage 11, Spanish broadcaster RTVE reported that EF had made an official complaint after stage 10 about the change in rules.
After around ten minutes delay, the peloton moved off, with Froome continuing to talk to Guillén as the peloton headed through the three-kilometre neutralised section, with the Briton clearly heard saying "they changed the rule after the race."
Froome's teammate Geraint Thomas took to Twitter to applaud the rider's actions: "Great to see the peloton sticking together at the Vuelta. Well, apart from the usual suspects," he tweeted.
"My point is, pro cycling is nothing without the riders. Yet all the big decisions are made by suits and we are the last to know. The main reason we have no say is because we don’t ever stick together as a peloton."
My point is, pro cycling is nothing without the riders. Yet all the big decisions are made by suits and we are the last to know. The main reason we have no say is because we don’t ever stick together as a peloton.October 31, 2020
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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