For the second year running, Oscar Freire (Rabobank) has triumphed in a bunch sprint in the Tour of the Basque Country, only to see the victory taken away from him.
Freire was given a push by his team-mate Luis Leon Sanchez with about 200 metres to go, although it seems unlikely that it really affected the result of the bunch sprint, which he won comfortably.
Sanchez had unintentionally blocked Freire in as he started his sprint, and as Sanchez moved aside, he pushed Freire on the back, presumably to indicate that he was in the clear.
The two were relegated to the last spots on the first bunch, 47th and 48th places respectively.
Whilst the race judges have yet to publish a definitive verdict on what happened and exactly why they disqualified Freire and Sanchez, with rumours circulating of other illegal manouvres in the final kilometres, Freire was forced to watch from the sidelines as Italian Francesco Gavazzi (Lampre) stood tall on the podium.
“I asked him if he wasn’t ashamed to be up there on the podium”, the usually laid-back Freire said afterwards.
“Nobody could believe what they decided. After what happened last year, this is just too much.”
This is the second time in as many years that Freire has been relegated in a bunch sprint in the Basque Country.
Last year’s relegation, on the opening stage, had an even odder outcome. Freire was disqualified for apparently blocking another rider and was given second place on the stage instead, with Alejandro Valverde (Caisse D’Epargne) being awarded the win and the leader’s jersey.
However, Freire was then re-awarded the stage win after Valverde was stripped of all his victories of that season when TAS extended Valverde’s two-year ban for doping from Italy to worldwide.
Whilst Friday was the last sprint opportunity for Freire in this year’s Tour of the Basque Country, overall the race still remains very much up for grabs, with 11 riders at 18 seconds or less on leader Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). Saturday’s final 24 kilometre time trial will decide the winner.
Tour of the Basque Country 2011, stage five: Éibar – El Corrillo 177km
1. Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Lampre 4-27-03
2. Kristof Vandewalle (Bel) Quick Step
3. John Gadret (Fra) Ag2r La Mondial
4. Pim Ligthart (Ned) Vacansoleil
5. Egoitz Garcia (Esp)
6. Vasili Kiryienka (Blr) Movistar
7. Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Cervelo
8. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Liquigas
9. Chris Horner (USA) RadioShack
10. Samuel Sanchez (Esp) Euskaltel-Euskadi all at same time
1. Joaquin Rodriguez (Esp) Katusha 21-39-46
2. Andreas Klöden (Ger) RadioShack at same time
3. Samuel Sanchez (Esp) Euskaltel-Euskadi at same time
4. Chris Horner (USA) RadioShack at one second
5. Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Cervelo at 6 secs
6. Xavier Tondo (Esp) Movistar at same time
7. David Lopez (Esp) Movistar at same time
8. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank at same time
9. Benat Intxausti (Esp) Movistar at 9 secs
10. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana at 10 secs