The peloton was resigned to a controversial UCI ruling that saw Tejay van Garderen dismissed and then reinstated multiple times as Tour of California race leader on Wednesday.
International UCI officials deliberated at length in the immediate aftermath of the crash-marred fourth stage in which the 3km rule was effectively stretched to include the American and erase his time deficit.
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Van Garderen (EF Education First) was chasing back from a crash and off-course incident, in sight of but not with the peloton when a mass pile-up in the bunch just outside of 3km to go blocked the road and delayed him further.
Speaking before the start of stage five on Thursday, the 30-year-old said he had been as confused as everyone else.
“To me I thought that’s the nail in the coffin, I’m going to lose the jersey. But they awarded those guys the same time and I think they thought it was only fair that they gave me the same time,” he said.
“As I was showering, they [UCI judges] said you need to hurry because you need to go to podium, you still have the jersey. And then before I even got out of the shower they came in again and said actually they changed their mind. Then as I was getting dressed, they said no you’re back in yellow.”
Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) had been provisionally declared the new race leader after stage four. A team spokesman declined to comment but sports director Wilfred Peeters did protest.
Jumbo-Visma climber George Bennett sympathised with EF Education First’s position but also questioned the UCI’s logic that he suggested undermined the costly work of his team.
“I think that was a crazy decision because it sets a dangerous precedent. I just think, like today, I can roll in at that back and if something goes wrong in the last 8km I’m safe. That’s good to know that’s going to be the way forward,” Bennett said dryly.
The 2017 tour champion’s view was compounded after he lost key team-mate Timo Roosen to the crash. Roosen was hospitalised last night and did not start stage five along with David de la Cruz (Ineos), who was also injured in it.
“The other thing is I knew how hard that finish was and how dangerous it was as we’ve done it before, so I burnt my whole team to put me on the front,” Bennett continued.
“At one stage I was even riding on the front at 3km to go. I lost a man because of it. He broke his collarbone risking to help me be at the front. We really put all our energy into it and it’s not a coincidence, it wasn’t lucky that I was at the front, it was because I was good at that kind of thing.”
Fellow overall contender Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) understood both sides.
“I’ve seen it before in the Giro 2015 and Paris-Nice 2015. It’s I guess the commissaires’ discretion and it’s just how it is. But at the same time Tejay is a good friend and I wouldn’t like to see him lose a race because there is an unfortunate incident like that,” Porte said.
Ineos sports director Brett Lancaster agreed, after his rider Gianni Moscon, who suffered skin abrasions in the crash, maintained his top three position on the general classification.
“They made their decision and there is no point complaining now you can’t change anything,” said Lancaster.
Van Garderen leads the Tour of California ahead of the penultimate stage to Mt Baldy tomorrow, which will likely decide the race. Asgreen collected an intermediate prime to move from third to second overall ahead of Moscon following stage five.